2010 Arlington Million Preview

ARCADIA, CA - NOVEMBER 04: Gio Ponti in a morning workout in preparation for the Breeder's Cup 2009 at the Santa Anita Race Track on November 4, 2009 in Arcadia, California. Gio Ponti will attempt to win his second consecutive Arlington Million on Saturday August 21, 2010 at Arlington Park. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

On Saturday, Gio Ponti will attempt to become the first back-to-back winner of the Grade 1 Arlington Million and the second two time winner.  John Henry won the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981 (the first million dollar horse race in the world) and won the race again in 1984.  Powerscourt (GB) crossed the wire first in 2004 but was taken down following a stewards inquiry and placed fourth behind ultimate winner Kicken Kris.  Powerscourt got his revenge in 2005 when Kieren Fallon (replacing 04 jockey Jamie Spencer) rode him to victory over 2004 Eclipse winner Kitten's Joy.

At first glance, this year's Arlington Million appears to be a fantastic opportunity for Gio Ponti to repeat.  In fact, one could make the argument that his biggest threat is not even in this race but is instead in running in the Secretariat Stakes, Paddy O'Prado.  Regardless, I'm in complete agreement with The Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker in thinking that Gio Ponti is a dead-on "bet against" in this Saturday's Million and there are two reasons I have for straying from the favorite.  The first reason is similar to Watchmaker's in that I am not a fan of his last race, the Grade 1 Man o'War at Belmont.  Take a look at some of the more notable horses from the Man o'War:

  • Runner-up Mission Approved, the horse that Gio Ponti was all out to defeat in the Man o'War, has won one race in the last two years - a $40k claimer at Delaware. 
  • Expansion, third in the Man o'War, was a horse that I really thought was coming into his own, enough so that I had him as my top selection in last weekend's Sword Dancer at Saratoga, but his performance in that race was tepid, at best.  Despite how well Expansion has been running, he only has a Grade 2 win in a late-November race at Aqueduct on his resume. 
  • Bearpath came back to run second in the Sword Dancer but holds one graded stake win in his career - the Grade 3 Pan American at Gulfstream in late March of 2010.
  • Sixth and seventh place finishers Interpatation and Grand Couturier (GB) came back to run in the Sword Dancer where both failed to challenge repeat winner, Telling.

I just don't see the depth in that field that I'd want to see in a Grade 1 race, which leads me to my second reason for fleeing from Gio Ponti in the Million: his odds.  Gio Ponti, given his name and past accomplishments, will get pounded at the windows on Million day and probably endings up somewhere around Even money come post time.  Those are odds I just can't take on a colt that hasn't been at the top of his game at any point in 2010.  If you put Gio Ponti at 5/2 or 3/1 in the Million he becomes a much more enticing prospect, but 7/5 (likely as high as he'll be) or Even for a favorite that is coming out of a race that appears to be a Grade 1 in name only is not something I can back.  

Given the above factors I'm going to look to one of the European shippers, Shadwell Stable's 9-Tazeez (6/1), as my top selection in the Million.  This amounts to a pure class play on my part as I'm banking on the premise that losing to decent Group 1, 2 and 3 horses in Europe is better than beating a so-so Grade 1 field in the North America.  If I'm wrong, so be it, but at least I'll be chasing after a bit more value.

Here's a look at what's happened over the last three races for Tazeez:

  • In Tazeez's last race he finished third to Sans Frontieres (IRE) and Redwood (GB) in the Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket.  San Frontieres won the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury and Redwood won the Group 3 Glorious Stakes at Goodwood in their next starts.
  • Two races back he ran in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, where he finished third to Byword (GB) and Twice Over (GB).  Byword just finished third to Twice Over and Rip Van Winkle in the Juddmonte International Stakes while Twice Over won the Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown before finishing second in the Juddmonte.
  • Three races back, Tazeez finished a neck behind Stotsfold (GB) in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown.  Stotsfold came back to win the listed Mouton Cadet Gala Stakes in his next race at Sandown.

In addition to his current class and form, Tazeez possesses another element that I think makes him dangerous in this spot, and that's early speed.  In Europe, Tazeez is generally on the lead in the early parts of his races, a tactic that is much more difficult to employ over there than it is here in North America.  The fact that he's run as well as he has in his last three races as the pace setter is something that he should be given credit for.  Tazeez has, however, shown an ability to stalk the pace and still run a winning race, as he did in the Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket in April of 2009.

There isn't a ton of speed for Tazeez to compete with in this Million; 1-Marsh Side (12/1) and 5-Quite a Handful (30/1) appear to be the likely competition on the front end.  Quite a Handful is an Optional Claiming / Allowance horse at best and he doesn't appear to be of any legitimate concern.  Marsh Side, however, has proven he can win at the graded level on the front-end and could be the proverbial "fly in the ointment" should he and Tazeez end up dueling in the early parts of the Million.  If Tazeez can stalk Marsh Side through soft early fractions he should get first run on this field when they enter the stretch.  Whether or not he can hold everyone off in the stretch will be the key, but given his current form (and probably some good odds on the tote board), I'm willing to take the chance.  

My long shot play in the Million is 2-Debussy (IRE) (12/1) who is another of the European shippers that has shown a bit of speed in the early parts of his recent races.  I'm a bit concerned with the going with this colt as his last two wins have come over courses rated "Good to Soft" and the ground at Arlington on Saturday will most likely be quite firm.

Grade 1 Arlington Million
1 1/4 miles (Turf)
Three years old and up
Purse: $1,000,000
Post-time: 5.14 CDT

PP

Horse

Jockey

Odds

1

Marsh Side

Corey Nakatani

12/1

2

Debussy (IRE)

William Buick

12/1

3

General Quarters

James Graham

8/1

4

Just As Well

Julien Leparoux

5/1

5

Quite A Handful

Tanner Riggs

10/1

6

Gio Ponte

Ramon Dominguez

7/5

7

Rahystrada

Inez Karlsson

10/1

8

Tajaaweed

Michael Baze

15/1

9

Tazeez

Richard Hills

6/1

10

Summit Surge (IRE)

Kieren Fallon

10/1

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