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Debussy follows in Tolomeo's footsteps in informative day at Arlington
By Alan Shuback
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.
Alan! It's great that I can see your blog here. I'm one of the person who's interest in TURF racing around the global. Gio Ponti lost in the Arlington million last Sat. is what I expected, Gio Ponti last year form was excellent, he's a different horse that what I can tell last couple time when he ran at Belmont in The Manhattan Stakes. He might not improving in the meantime but I could not say he can or he cannot, we've to see in the future, Debussy was a Group 2 winner at France, he like America style Left-handed turn turf course, a lot of handicapper in U.S. still lack of education about that. If Tazeez have not stepping slow out the gate, maybe he have a chance to control the pace, I'm not saying he've to gun run out front, otherwise the result may have some difference. I'm glad that you always tell us more detail in your article, I read your book Global Racing which was one of the best book I've read last couple years. Is there a chance you can put out the updates of the Dubai new track too??? Thanks Alan...wishing you can come to Los Angeles, CA for the book signing and seminar with James Quinn. Keep us info about the Sept. 11 The St. Leger's Stakes at Doncaster course in UK. Cheers!
Hi Alan, I was hoping you could explain a couple of things. First off would be the descriptions of the track conditions in Europe as listed in the DRF. I thought Tazeez had made a start on turf that was "boggy", my terminology, and the result was not good. Alas, I opted for Luca's horse instead of the other Gosden entry because of that. In hindsight, I should have bet both of them. Also, how does one translate Racing Post speed figures into Beyers? I used to know how to do the Timeform ratings, but I'm blank now. Please do not keep telling people that the Europeans are much better on the turf than the American horses. There are some of us who have done quite well over the years and gotten great prices with exactly that view, speed rating be damned. Let's keep it our little secret. I like your blog, so please keep it up, except for...well, you know. Jim L (At DRF the foreign turf course conditions are as follows: hd: hard (hardly ever seen anywhere in Europe), fm: firm; gf: good to firm; gd: good; gs: good to soft (this is used in England and France); yl: yielding (used in Ireland, virtually the equivalent of good to soft); hy: heavy (this takes in every condition in Europe softer than soft or very soft, e.g., collant in France (which means holding or sticky), heavy and very heavy. If we ever had heavy ground in America, it would probably lead to all races off the turf for up to a week. Boggy is a good word to describe heavy. Quagmire might be another. I would caution against trying to translate Racing Post Ratings (RPR) into Beyers. They use different criteria, e.g., RPR's factor in weight. RPR's are a handicap rating offered by the Racing Post as an alternative to the official handicap ratings of the British Horseracing Board upon which weights for handicap races are determined. They are best used in comparison with each other, of course. DRF offers them as one handicap tool among many others. The best way to handicap foreign horses in America is to gauge the qulity of competition against which they have been running in foreign climes.) AS
Always enjoy reading your insights Alan. Note Paddy O's final quarter in the Secretariat. We will see if he can get 12f, but he is top class nonetheless and you may be selling him a bit short. Tazeez received a horrible ride in the Million. I believe he wins it with an alert break and if allowed to relax near the lead.
I disagree that Gio Ponti is beneath the competition mentioned. He clearly was the best horse who got surprised in the end. Gio Ponti's connections would do well to ship him to Europe to educate him on the strategies of turf racing and get him used to that last minute explosion of speed that marks their races. Gio Ponti is incomparable and will show it once he lgets a little more experience and then latches onto a jockey who can make the most of his talents.
Gio Ponti and I go back to the Monmouth Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, where his jockey was the only one of the four trailers who opted to not fan out and circle the leaders at the top of the stretch. Even an excellent jockey like Dominguez makes a split second decision that doesn't pan out. I have been reading your columns for way too long to dismiss your conclusions out of hand. That said my take on the Gio Ponti situation is quite opposite yours. I think a great deal of the horse and probably even more of his trainer, Cristophe Clement. Watching the Million I don't know what more could have been asked of Gio Ponti, other than the obvious of getting to the wire first. I thought he looked superb. My hope is that come Breeders Cup day his connections are of the opinion that he will get the 1 1/2 miles of the Turf, is ready to fire his best, and send him against all comers. If those conditions are met I will run to the windows with as much confidence as I did when English Channel trashed the 2007 contingent of couldn't lose over the ponders. I suppose we shall see.
Alan , Could you tell us what Aiden O'briens overall record in BC races is. My recollection is that its not very good. Its pretty easy to look good when you compete in six horse races at the Curragh and you train five of the competitors. It did appear that Gio Ponti was ridden over confidently and his jock certainly got outrode by the young Mr. Buick. It is agreed that GP is not likely a 12f horse. (Aidan O'Brien has saddled four winners from 58 Breeders' Cup starters with four seconds and seven thirds for earnings of $8,868,520, placing him eighth among all Cup trainers in money won, not bad for a man who has to send his horses between 4,000 and 7,000 miles to run in the Cup. I would be very careful about disparaging O'Brien on any terms. Let's see Todd Pletcher win four races at Royal Ascot in the next 15 years, or Steve Asmussen do likewise on Arc weekened.) AS