Gio Ponti got past the tiring leaders with a furlong to run in Saturday's Arlington Million and held on at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths, his fourth straight time at the top level and setting himself up among the favorites for the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf this fall.
Closing into a quick pace, Gio Ponti finished the 1 1/4 miles on turf rated "good" in 2:04.19 under Ramon Dominguez. Just as Well ran well late to snatch second from Stotsfold.
Gio Ponti, a 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat, started his year with a fifth-place finish in the Strub Stakes on the all-weather track at Santa Anita. Switched to turf by trainer Christophe Clement, he since has rattled off victories in three straight Grade I races -- the Frank Kilroe Mile, the Manhattan and the Man 'o War.
"We were very patient with him when he was a 3-year-old," Clement said, "and he keeps maturing and is a better 4-year-old."
He said he told Dominguez not to worry about pace-setting Presious Passion because, "if you look at him, his best races were at Gulfstream and Monmouth -- two speed-favoring courses. Today, with the rain, it was not that speed-favoring going in."
Asked what's next for Gio Ponti, Clement said only, "There are many good races around the world and he would go in any one of them."
In Saturday's $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds at Arlington Park, Take the Points rallied from a pace-pressing position to outfinish Black Bear Island, winning by a head. Laureate Conductor finished third. Take the Points, a gray, Kentucky-bred Even the Score colt, ran the 1 1/4 miles on "good" turf in 2:05.41. Kent Desormeaux had the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"He is a wonderful horse," Desormeaux said. "He has a great stride and showed it throughout the race, and really had a strong stride down the lane. He was comfortable down the backstrech and had a ton of fight at the end."
In other weekend racing with potential implications for the $25.5 million Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita:
$2 million Ladies Classic
Zenyatta won her 12th straight race Sunday in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar but for a while it looked like she wouldn't get a chance to run the undefeated record to an "unlucky" No. 13. After sitting off the pace, as usual, jockey Mike Smith got the 5-year-old Street Cry mare going around the turn, swung four-wide into the stretch and was just up in the final yards to win by a head over 22-1 shot Anabaa's Creation. Lethal Heat finished third. Zenyatta got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface in 1:43.23. "I knew we had to get busy at the finish," Smith said. "When we got right near the wire, she hit another gear. Then when we crossed and I stood up, she hit another gear. On the gallop out she was drawing away. This mile and a sixteenth is a funny distance. I'll tell you, she wants to run farther. There's no doubt. If she runs farther, she's got an advantage. Trainer John Shirreffs admitted he was worried for a while. But, he said, "What I really liked about her race is that she had a lot of ground to make up and she put her head down and kept making it up. She never picked her head up. She kept reaching out and running for the wire. That's Zenyatta." Although she has been beating fillies and mares, Zenyatta likely is headed for the Breeders' Cup Classic in an effort to put her over the top for the Horse of the Year title that eluded her last year.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Dynaforce stalked the pace in Saturday's $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park, then took charge in the lane, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Ainadana. The favorite, Pure Clan, rallied from last of eight but settled for third, a neck farther back. Dynaforce, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Dynaformer mare, got the 1 3/16 miles on "good" turf with Kent Desormeaux up for trainer Bill Mott. "Nice easy pace to the half and then let her stretch it out in an attempt to take the foreign turn of foot away from them down the lane," said Desormeaux. "That's the way to beat the European horses. You can go as slow as you want the first three-quarters but you can't wait until the quarter pole to turn it on … You still have to have the ability to get the kick to the wire."
$1 million Turf Sprint
Atticus Kristy pressed the pace in Saturday's $60,000 My Frenchman Stakes at Monmouth Park, then got clear in the lane to win by 1 length over Cooper County. Cherokee Country was third. Atticus Kristy, an 8-year-old, Kentucky-bred Atticus gelding, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.13 with Joe Bravo in the irons.
Ahvee's Destiny went to the front in Sunday's $70,000 Finney Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga, opened up a daylight lead and survived at the end, winning by a neck over the late-running favorite, Smart and Fancy. Sly Storm finished third. Ahvee's Destiny, a 5-year-old, New York-bred mare by Rizzi, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.4. John Velazquez rode for trainer Linda Rice.
$5 million Classic
Bullsbay sat in mid-pack through the early stages of Saturday's $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, moved up strongly around the turn under jockey Jeremy Rose and drew off in the stretch to post a 1 1/2-length upset victory. Macho Again was second with Commentator third. The favorite, Smooth Air, chased the pace but then faded to finish last of six. Asiatic Boy was scratched. Bullsbay, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.12. In his last start, Bullsbay finished 10th in the Hollywood Gold Cup on an all-weather surface. "Nobody mentioned him all week," said winning trainer Graham Motion. "This horse is underrated." Rose said Bullsbay "fired on all cylinders. Graham had him ready and it was a perfect trip. I made the lead way too early but I couldn't help it. He was just cutting through traffic way too easy." Trainer Nick Zito announced after the race that Commentator has been retired. "We'll let him go out on a high note," Zito said. The 8-year-old New York-bred finished his 24-race career with 14 wins from 24 starts, including two previous runnings of the Whitney, and with earnings of $2,049,845.
Sterwins got past pace-setting Ice Bear in the final jumps to win Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) With Approval Stakes for Ontario-breds at Woodbine by a neck. Sligovitz finished third. Sterwins, a 6-year-old Runaway Groom gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.74 with Patrick Husbands in the irons.
Quality Road, idle since hoof problems kept him out of the Kentucky Derby, won Monday's $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga so impressively that the track re-timed the race twice before posting the result as a new track record. With John Velazquez up for new trainer Todd Pletcher, the Elusive Quality colt actually stumbled at the start, edged into contention around the turn and dominated in the stretch, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Capt. Candyman Can. Captain Cherokee finished third. The time of 1:13.45 over a fast track bettered the record of 1:14.4 set by Topsider in 1979. Pletcher said the Florida Derby winner, despite the bad start, "ran as well as we wanted him to today." Asked about the prospect of facing super filly Rachel Alexandra in the Travers Aug. 29, the trainer was philosophical: "With a stable our size, wherever she runs, we're going to probably wind up facing her. We might as well do it with one of our best horses."
$2 million Sentient Sprint
Zensational lived up to his name and his favorite's status in Saturday's $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar. The 3-year-old, gray son of Unbridled's Song shot to the lead and extended the advantage to a 2 1/2-lengths victory. Talkin to Mom Roo was second and Global Hunter finished third. Zensational, under Victor Espinoza, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.57. He now has won four of six starts, including three straight. Winning trainer Bob Baffert noted, "The last time I won this, it was with a gray horse and you know what happened after that." That was Thirty Slews, who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint and put Baffert on the map. "I'm going to keep him here in California and get him just right for the Breeders' Cup," Baffert said of Zensational's campaign plans. The race is named for one of the founders of Del Mar.
Fabulous Strike chased longshot Go Go Shoot through the early furlongs of Sunday's $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, then got by in the final sixteenth and won by 1 length. Go Go Shoot held second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Kodiak Kowboy. Fabulous Strike, a 6-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred son of Smart Strike, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.69 with Ramon Dominguez up for trainer Todd Beattie. "A thrill. How can you get a bigger venue than this with these peers I've looked up to all these years?" asked Beattie, who trains at Penn National. "I've got to take my hat off to the horse. I'm lucky to be the guy to bring him over here." He said Fabulous Strike likely will run next in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park on Oct. 3.
Drunken Love was just up at the wire to win Wednesday's $125,000 (Canadian) Shepperton Stakes for Ontario-breds at Woodbine. Yummy With Butter, also running best late, nosed out pace-setter Stuck in Traffic for second. Drunken Love, a 4-year-old Whiskey Wisdom gelding, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.56 with Gerry Olguin aboard.
$1 million Sentient Filly & Mare Sprint
Flashing stalked the pace in Saturday's $300,000 Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga, then raced into contention around the turn and drew clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Pretty Prolific. The previously undefeated favorite, Cat Moves, was a neck farther back in third. Flashing, a Kentucky-bred daughter of A.P. Indy out of the Machiavellian mare Morning Pride, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.4 under Richard Migliore. She picked up her fifth win in seven starts. The defeats include a third-place finish behind Rachel Alexandra in the Mother Goose. The Godolphin Racing filly is trained by Saeed bin Suroor. "This filly is tough," the trainer said. "The last race was hard on her. Seven furlongs suits her a lot."
Carem Crescent closed from just off the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Duchess Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine, then got clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Closing Speed. Cosmic Queen finished third. Carem Crescent, an Ontario-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, got the 7 furlongs in 1:22.50 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons.
Game Face pressed the pace in Sunday's $150,000 Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga, got to the lead with less than a furlong left and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Pace-setter Keep the Peace held second, 3/4 length ahead of P.S.U. Grad. Game Face, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Menifee filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.7 with Edgar Prado in the irons.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Lookin At Lucky rallied to the lead in the stretch run in Sunday's $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over Make Music For Me. Smiling Tiger led early and held on for third. Lookin At Lucky, a Kentucky-bred Smart Strike colt, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.06. Garrett Gomez rode for trainer Bob Baffert. "This is what dreams are made of," Baffert said of Lookin At Lucky, who now is 2-for-2 in his young career. "There's nothing like good 2-year-olds in the barn. The good ones get ready on their own. When you have good ones, they take care of the bad ones. I've thought he had a lot of talent." He said Lookin At Lucky will come back in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7.
Ghost Fleet battled a wall of horses for the lead in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Vandal Stakes at Woodbine, then separated himself in the stretch, winning by 4 3/4 lengths. Takiddm was second and Mobthewarrior finished third. Ghost Fleet, an Ontario-bred Arch colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.64 with Todd Kabel riding for trainer Sid Attard.
Jackson Bend, the even-money favorite, had the best punch in the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Dr. Fager Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder Race Course, surging to the lead at the right time and winning by 3/4 length over Mr. Green. Bim Bam finished third. Jackson Bend, a Hear No Evil colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.48 with Jeffrey Sanchez aboard.
Thats a Heckofacat pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Cleveland Kindergarten Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds at Thistledown, then drew off to win by 4 1/4 lengths over early leader Infatuation. Busha' finished third. Thats a Heckofacat, a gelded son of Hold That Tiger, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.6 under John McKee.
Cejka led from gate to wire in Sunday's $50,000 Brian Barenscheer Juvenile at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, then held on at the end to finish first, a head in front of Launch Light. Launch Light then was disqualified to last, promoting Raton Pass and Bet Your Boots, the favorite, to second and third, respectively. Cejka is a Kentucky-bred Black Minnaloushe gelding. Scott Stevens rode him over 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.32.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile Fillies
Hidden Expression stalked the pace in Saturday's $65,000 Colleen Stakes at Monmouth Park, got rolling down the lane and won by 3 lengths over Truth and Justice. Southern Truth was third and the favorite, Aegean, finished fourth after dueling for the lead. Hidden Expression, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Yonaguska, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.6 with Eddie Castro up for trainer Todd Beattie.
Sweetlalabye sat off the pace in Saturday' $100,000 Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder Race Course, then made up all the ground in the stretch to post a mild upset victory. Joanie's Catch was second, 3/4 length back, and the odds-on favorite, Myakka City, faded from the lead to finish third. Sweetlalabye, a daughter of Sweetsouthernsaint, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:13.72 on a fast track under Manoel Cruz.
Unusual Suspect was an unexpected winner in Wednesday's $150,000 Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar, rallying through the stretch to win by a nose over Richard's Kid at odds of 24-1. The favorite, Church Service, rallied belatedly to finish third but never had a prayer for the win. Unusual Suspect, a 5-year-old, California-bred son of Unusual Heat, got the 1 1/2 miles on the all-weather track in 2:31.22 with Alonso Quinonez up for trainer Barry Abrams.