Gio Ponti, the man, was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.
Gio Ponti, the horse, could end up being one of the most influential American turf runners of 2009. And like his namesake, he has designs on bigger and better things.
He's well on his way after building up quite a resume with three straight Grade I victories, including a spectacular win in the Man o' War, where he parlayed a wide trip throughout into a seamless win.
"We were very proud of his run in the Man o' War," said Christophe Lorieul, trainer Christophe Clement's assistant. "That was an international race as well with a French horse and a German horse in that field. But that's the level of competition you're going to face as the year progresses."
The 4-year-old's next project? Winning the Arlington Million, where he has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of nine. He will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez.
"He's got to be on top at the moment, other than perhaps Einstein," Lorieul said. "He's won three Grade I races in a row at three different distances. And he runs over any kind of course - firm, soft or rock hard."
What conditions he gets on Saturday are anyone's guess. Will the expected searing heat dry out the course or will predicted thunderstorms soften up Arlington's famed turf course?
Regardless of the conditions, one of Gio Ponti's main rivals will be Einstein (Julien Leparoux), The connections of the 7-year-old son of Spend a Buck are hoping the racing gods smile on them this year.
"We've had some bad racing luck," said Einstein trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi, referring to last year's fifth-place effort in the Million and Einstein's third-place finish last time out in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap. "When you're the one to beat, that's what happens.
"In the Foster, he got boxed in and they (other jockeys) weren't going to let him out."
It's not going to get any easier Saturday afternoon at Arlington.
"It's a lot tougher than last year," she said. "But no Grade I stake is easy, especially when they're giving away a million dollars."
Another strong contingent of European horses has caught the eye of team Clement.
"We've watched them very closely," Lorieul said.
"The horse for Pascal Bary, Gloria de Campeao (Tiago Pereira), is a good horse who looks very well. He was second in the Dubai World Cup and then won the Singapore Airlines Cup.
"And Luca Cumani's horse, Cima de Triomphe (Christophe Lemaire), was fourth in the Eclipse Stakes and was supposed to run in the King George Stakes, but they decided to point for the Arlington Million instead. I'd say those two might be some of our main competition."
Not to be overlooked is Presious Passion (Elvis Trujillo), a wire-to-wire winner in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth in his last outing.
Louie Roussel's first shot at Million glory comes in the form of Recapturetheglory (Garrett Gomez), winner of the 2008 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.
Rounding out the field are Just As Well (E.T. Baird) Stotsfold (Adam Kirby) and Mr. Sidney (Kent Desormeaux), each coming in fresh off a victory.
If you go
What: Arlington Million and International Festival of Racing
When: Saturday, Aug. 8. Gates open at 10 a.m. First of 12 races has a post time of 12:15 p.m. The Million is the ninth race with a post time of 4:42 p.m.
General admission: $15
Information: arlingtonpark.com or (847) 385-7500
Traffic warning: Rohlwing Road restricted to local traffic northbound from Kirchoff Road to Fremont Street. No northbound traffic allowed north of Fremont Street. Traffic and turns restricted in the vicinity of Rohlwing and Euclid Avenue to improve the flow in and out of the park. Watch for barricades and police. Restrictions are from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.