My favorite weekend of the racing season is rapidly approaching! Here it is: Arlington Million week in all of its glory. Today I preview the 29th running of the Arlington Million, the premier race that features the top grass runners going 1 ¼ miles on the most excellent turf course in the nation (rail set at “Million” lane 5 of course.)
I’d like to start by focusing in on the new “rivalry” between Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti. These two horses locked horns in their last meeting: the Man O’War at Belmont Park on July 9th. Cape Blanco tracked leader Mission Approved and kicked ahead down the stretch to fend off a hard charging Gio Ponti by 2 ¼ lengths. Gio Ponti had settled back behind the rest of the field and just didn’t have quite enough room to run down the eventual winner. However, this is not the first time these two turf champions have met! Gio Ponti had also finished 5th, ¼ length behind 4th place finisher Cape Blanco in the Dubai World Cup back in March. Now Gio Ponti (below) has his chance for revenge in the Arlington Million on Saturday. Right off the bat these two horses have been installed as the top two betting choices (9-5 for Cape Blanco and 2-1 for Gio Ponti) and I would expect both of them to remain the top choices at post time.
This isn’t a match race however, as there are other contenders capable of winning this race as well, so let’s take a deeper look!
Let’s not forget that Mission Approved (6-1) also ran in the Man O’War and set the early pace against the two main contenders. In fact, Mission Approved upset an entire field at 21-1 in the Manhattan Handicap in June at Belmont, part of that field being 3rd place finisher Gio Ponti! I would expect Mission Approved again to grab the early lead in the Million. Speed has been holding fairly well this year at the Arlington meet but will it be enough to hold off this world class field? What amazes me even more about this horse is that he came from (and won) a $40,000 claiming race 5 races back and now is racing in the Million. Truly remarkable!
Two time Arlington Park winner and local favorite, Tajaaweed (12-1), is coming off an impressive victory in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap in July. Top Arlington jockey James Graham retains the mount for the Million for trainer Danny Peitz. Tajaaweed has a similar running style to that of Gio Ponti as he usually likes to come from behind the pack. We definitely cannot count out the local runner here.
Worldly traveler Wigmore Hall (8-1) comes back to the USA and Arlington Park for the first time in a year after taking 2nd in last year’s Secretariat Stakes losing to the great turf runner Paddy O’Prado. If you had a chance to go to Horseplayer Now’s Night School last night, one angle the expert panel mentioned is that horses that are accustomed to traveling overseas tend to acclimate quicker to their surroundings. If that is any indication you cannot discount Wigmore Hall either.
I am very much looking forward to this race! You can expect Mission Approved to grab an early lead, Cape Blanco to lay just off the pace, and Gio Ponti to close in at the end. I believe the winner of this race will be either Cape Blanco or Gio Ponti. Other horses you may want to include in your exotic tickets are Rahystrada, Tajaaweed, and Wigmore Hall.
What are you looking forward to most in the Million? Who do you think will win? Who will you have in your exotic tickets?
Tomorrow, I will feature the fillies and mares and preview the Beverly D.
Photo by Adam Coglianese