08/13/2011 5:44PM

Arlington Park: Cape Blanco takes Arlington Million

Four-Footed Fotos
Cape Blanco, with Jamie Spencer riding, bounds home to win the Arlington Million.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Aidan O’Brien did not travel to Chicago for Arlington Million Day. Call his performance Saturday long-distance precision surgery. O’Brien has well more than 100 horses in training at Ballydoyle, his home base in Ireland, and chose exactly the right pair to come to America.

An hour after Treasure Beach won the Secretariat Stakes, Cape Blanco thoroughly dominated nine rivals in the 29th running of the Arlington Million, making O’Brien the only trainer besides Bobby Frankel to win two Grade 1 races on the Arlington Million program. Frankel won the Million with Beat Hollow and the Secretariat with Chiselling in 2002.

Treasure Beach’s Secretariat score was narrow, but the Million was over at the top of the stretch. Swooping wide into the lead under Jamie Spencer, Cape Blanco opened daylight at the three-sixteenths pole and was on cruise control thereafter, beating Gio Ponti by 2  1/2 lengths. Gio Ponti finished a neck in front of Dean’s Kitten, his second straight runner-up finish in the Million after winning in 2009, and his second loss to Cape Blanco in a month. In the Man o’ War at Belmont on July 9, Cape Blanco bested Gio Ponti by 2 1/4 lengths.

For Spencer, the Million must have felt like sweet redemption. This was his first ride in the race since 2004, when he crossed the wire first on the O’Brien-trained Powerscourt but was disqualified to fourth for interference. Spencer, however, chose not to delve into the emotional side of the result.

“I try not to dwell on the past,” he said. “Mine’s pretty colorful, so I look to the future.”

The future could hold more American racing for Cape Blanco, now 2 for 2 in the States (and 2 for 2 racing on Lasix) after failing to win his first three 2011 starts abroad.

“You’d have to, wouldn’t you?” said Alex Cole, racing manager for part-owners Jim and Fitri Hay, when asked if Cape Blanco would be considered for could return to the U.S. later this year. “The Breeders’ Cup mile-and-a-half, that’d be under consideration. But we do what Aidan tells us to do.”

Cape Blanco earned an automatic bid and free entry into the BC Turf on Saturday thanks to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge program.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

The Hays co-own Cape Blanco, a son of Galileo out of Laurel Delight, with Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor, owners of Treasure Beach. Now four times a Group or Grade 1 winner, Cape Blanco has won 8 of 14 starts, and the winner’s share of the Million boosted his bankroll to more than $3.5 million.

Cape Blanco raced in the second tier while on the outside Saturday as Mission Approved made the pace, setting fractions of 24.81 seconds for the first quarter-mile, 50.26 for the half, and a slow 1:16.04 for six furlongs. But Mission Approved offered no resistance when Cape Blanco rolled up three wide on the far turn, giving way before turning for home as the eventual winner took command. Gio Ponti, well back and inside during the early stages, made his bid, but he never threatened Cape Blanco, and appeared all out to hold off Dean’s Kitten for second.

“The winner got first run on us again,” Gio Ponti’s jockey, Ramon Dominguez, told owner Shane Ryan during a long postrace discussion. “We were just second-best today.”

Course conditions worked against Gio Ponti for the second race in a row. Gio Ponti prefers firmer going, and heavy rain early Saturday turned the Arlington grass yielding. Dominguez pointed to mud on his silks and said that the course had deteriorated even during the half-hour since he had ridden the Beverly D. Indeed, Cape Blanco’s winning time of 2:05.39 for 1 1/4 miles was the slowest Million clocking in the race’s 29-year history.

Cape Blanco paid $6.20 to win and completed a sweep of the Saturday’s Grade 1 races by favorites. Treasure Beach in the Secretariat and Stacelita in the Beverly D. combined with the Million winner to produce a paltry $1 all-Grade 1 pick three payoff of $16.40. The guaranteed $200,000 pick four landing on the Million paid $731.90 for a $1 bet. Stacelita, the Beverly D. winner, recently was imported from France, giving Europeans a near-sweep of Saturday’s Grade 1’s.

Rounding out the order of finish in the Million was Wigmore Hall in fourth, followed by Rahystrada, Tajaaweed, Mission Approved, Zack Hall, and General Perfect.

Attendance was announced as 31,069.