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Gio Ponti overcomes stumble to win Arlington Million
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff

Gio Ponti with jockey Ramon Dominquez crosses the finish line and wins the 27th Arlington Million at Arlington Park on Saturday August 8th. The trainer of Gio Ponti from Castleton Lyons Farm in Lexington, Kentucky is Christophe Clement.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Jockey Ramon Dominquez riding Gio Ponti wins the 27th Arlington Million at Arlington Park.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Gio Ponti, with Ramon A. Dominguez riding, takes the 27th Arlington Million on Saturday.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 8/8/2009 5:34 PM | Updated: 8/8/2009 11:19 PM

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Anyone have filly Rachel Alexandra's phone number?

How about the digits for super mare Zenyatta?

Suddenly the connections of Gio Ponti are eager to set up a racing date with both those ladies after watching their young fella catapult into a different stratosphere with a convincing victory in the 27th running of the Arlington Million, Gio Ponti's fourth consecutive Grade I victory.

"It's unreal," owner Shane Ryan said. "And he's only getting better."

Ryan's 4-year-old, despite stumbling out of the gate, powered to the lead turning for home and then held off the two longest shots in the race - Just As Well and Stotsfold - to win by a comfortable 11/4-length margin and move past the $1.3 million mark in earnings this year.

Suddenly Gio Ponti's name can be mentioned in the same sentence with the two super gals of racing.

The problem for him, though, is that over the last 25 years only two turf horses have won Horse of the Year honors. One was the great John Henry in 1984 and the other Kotashaan in 1993.

After her romping win in the Kentucky Oaks and victories in the Preakness and the Haskell, Rachel Alexandra is the clubhouse leader for Horse of the Year honors. And Zenyatta is undefeated as well, pending the outcome of Sunday's running of the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

It's doubtful the three will ever face off, but that didn't stop Ryan from dreaming.

"We should all meet in the (Breeders' Cup) Classic and find out," he said with a smile when asked which of the three was the best of the bunch.

Ryan wasn't the only one smiling Saturday afternoon.

"He's a great horse," said winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, who has guided Gio Ponti to 3 of his 4 wins this year. "He does everything so easy, There's no telling how good he is."

And to think in the minutes leading up to the race, Dominguez was a bit of a nervous wreck about a turf course that seemed to be favoring front-runners.

Gio Ponti's trainer, Christophe Clement, however, would hear none of it.

"I was a little concerned with the way the turf was playing," Dominguez said. "He said, 'You have the best horse. I leave it up to you.' "

Locally based jockey E.T. Baird mounted a furious late rally down the stretch aboard Just As Well (19-1) to edge out Stotsfold for second place.

"I thought I could catch the winner if he collapsed or gave in a little," Baird said. "My horse was hanging in there pretty strong. He wasn't giving up."

Stotsfold dodged toward the rail down the stretch and looked to be gaining on Gio Ponti but in the end didn't have enough in the tank.

"I thought when they straightened up in the stretch he was going to win," jockey Adam Kirby said. "He had every right to be here and I thought he was overpriced. I'm very pleased he ran so well.'

The second choice among Million bettors - Einstein - didn't fare quite as well on the yielding/good turf, faltering late to finish fifth.

"I don't know what happened," jockey Julien Leparoux said. "He had a good trip but wasn't here for me today."

No, this day belonged solely to Gio Ponti, who missed out on the celebration with his connections in a sweltering tent in the paddock. It was there that Clement was asked if Gio Ponti was the best horse he has ever trained.

"Yes - probably," he said, eliciting some good-natured catcalls from the winning connections followed by a quick clarification.

"Yes," Clement said, feeling the heat, "he is."