08/22/2010 11:50AM

Debussy follows in Tolomeo's footsteps in informative day at Arlington


Debussy looked like the reincarnation of Tolomeo in the Arlington Million on Saturday as he came up the rail to defeat in Gio Ponti a horse that wasn't supposed to lose. Twenty-seven years earlier, Tolomeo had done exactly the same thing to surprise the great John Henry, giving Europe its first Million triumph in the third running of the race
Debussy was supposed to be trainer John Gosden's second string in the Million, but things worked out well for him when his apparently more dangerous stablemate Tazeez broke in the air from his wide post, was rushed up to lead after 3 furlongs, and then inexplicably opened up 5 lengths down the backstretch in a most questionable ride from the usually reliable Richard Hills. Tazeez was caught just inside the eighth-pole by Gio Ponti, who was then headed late by Debussy.
Named for the revolutionary turn-of-the-century French compser Claude Debussy, the Thoroughbred Debussy has been inconsistent throughout his career but got it right on Saturday with the help of the 22-year-old Buick, who would complete a quick big race double at Deauville 15 hours later aboard Dream Ahead in the Group 1 Prix Morny. Buick had replaced Jimmy Fortune as Goden's go-to guy in the saddle this past winter. He was riding the Gosden second string because Hills is the contract rider in Britain for Tazeez's owner Hamdan Al Maktoum.
After the retirements of legendary riders like Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, Steve Cauthen and Joe Mercer back in the nineties, the British riding colony had begun to look a little thin around the edges, with Irishman like Pat Eddery (who rode Tolomeo to his Million victory), Kieren Fallon, Michael Kinane and Richard Hughes propping things up for at least a decade. The recent emergence English riders like Buick and Ryan Moore, who rode Conduit to both of his Breeders' Cup Turf triumps, has provided a big boost to British jockey rooms.
The poor gate habits of British-trained horses had a deleterious effect not only on Tazeez but on Pachattack in the Beverly D. While the Gerard Butler-trained filly was a longshot, she did herself no favors in walking out of the gate, then trailing to the eighth-pole, at which point she passed a few tired horses. That Tazeez, who may have been spooked by the clanging bells that accompany all American starts but are absent from European starts, was still able to finish third in the Million is a testamnet to his ability once the first fifty yards of a race have been run.
Arlington Million Day provides the world's international handicappers with a precious lode of information with which to compare American and European form. This year all of the positives are on the European side..
If America's best turf horse Gio Ponti cannot beat a modest French Group 2 winner like Debussy, it bodes very badly for American chances in the Breeders' Cup Turf. The loser of six of his last seven starts, Gio Ponti would stand little chance against any of the first three home in last week's Juddmonte International Stakes, Rip Van Winkle, Twice Over and Byword, not even at the 10-furlong distance all four of them prefer. Gio Ponti now looks like a very difficult horse to place as the only Grade 1, mile-and-a-quarter turf race he might run in is the Clement Hirsch in October. That is, unless trainer Christophe Clement wants to go for the Turf Classic and the Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles, a distance Gio Ponti probably doesn't stay.
Rip Van Winkle has a slew of options awaiting him. The 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion Stakes, the one-mile Queen Elizabth II Stakes, the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes being just three of them. Twice Over is under consideration for the Champion Stakes, the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Hong Kong Cup. Byword, who like Twice Over is owned by Juddmonte, will be stepped up to 1 1/2 miles by trainer Andre Fabre in the Prix Foy on Sept. 12 with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in mind.
Meanwhile, Aidan O'Brien's big horse, Fame and Glory, will chooce from between the Irish Champion and the 1 1/2-mile Prix Foy as his Arc prep. Of course anything trained by O'Brien or owned by Juddmonte is always under consideration for one Breeders' Cup race or another.
Paddy O'Prado confirmed his status as America's premier 3-year-old turf with a professional victory in the Secretariat Stakes. Now it is time for him to step up to 12 furlongs and challenge older horses. Yet if he was only a length and a half in front of the ex-handicapper Wigmore Hall in the Secretariat, it is very difficult indeed to see Paddy O'Prado taking the measure of Europe's best at a mile and a half later this fall.