08/08/2011 4:07PM

Arlington Park: Clement shoots for unprecedented double

Barbara D. Livingston
Gio Ponti, with exercise rider Christophe Lorieul up, works five furlongs in 59 seconds Aug. 3 at Saratoga in preparation for the Arlington Million.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Six horse trainers have won both the Arlington Million and the Beverly D. Stakes at some point during their career, and Christophe Clement is one of them. No trainer, however, has won both races in the same year, and Clement appears to have at least a puncher’s chance of landing both prizes this Saturday at Arlington Park.

Clement will send out Gio Ponti, his Million winner from 2009, along with Cheetah, who appears to be a heavy hitter in the Beverly D., a race Clement already has won three times, more than any other trainer. Clement’s first Beverly D. winner was England’s Legend in 2001, and he scored back-to-back victories in the race with Royal Highness in 2007 and Mauralakana the next year. Clement’s record in the Million also shines: Three starters have won, placed, and showed.

Gio Ponti has made two of those Million starts, finishing second last year to English invader Debussy. Should Gio Ponti manage a win Saturday, he would become the only horse besides John Henry to win more than one Million.

Gio Ponti and Cheetah are among the New York-based horses shipping to Chicago on Wednesday, Clement said. Gio Ponti worked five furlongs in a bullet 59 seconds on Aug. 3 over the turf training track at Saratoga and will merely come into the Million off a series of gallops following that major drill, according to Clement.

“He’s not working again,” Clement said. “I never work so close to the race. It’s not for me.”

Gio Ponti is one of 10 pre-entrants in the Million. Pre-entries for the Million, the $400,000 Secretariat, and the $750,000 Beverly D. were due last Friday, and final entries will be taken and post positions drawn Tuesday morning in Chicago. Gio Ponti has suffered four straight losses, and the prospective field for the Million includes the winners of Gio Ponti’s two North America starts this year: Mission Approved, who captured the Manhattan in front-running fashion and figures to make the pace again Saturday; and Cape Blanco, who beat Gio Ponti by more than two lengths last out in the Man o’ War and should challenge him for favoritism here Saturday.

Cape Blanco is one of three likely overseas runners in the Million, and one of six probable transcontinental shippers for Saturday’s trio of Grade 1’s. Also intended for the Million are Wigmore Hall, from England, and Zack Hall, a French horse. Wigmore Hall will be piloted by the Englishwoman Hayley Turner, who will be the third female rider with a Million mount. Turner takes over from regular jockey Jamie Spencer, who has the call on Cape Blanco in Saturday’s race. Wigmore Hall is making his second trip to Arlington, having finished second to Paddy O’Prado in the 2010 Secretariat. Lightly raced Zack Hall has never won a race of consequence, but may have his best performances ahead of him. He was a close fourth behind high-class performers Sarafina and Cirrus des Aigles in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in his most recent start.

River Jetez is the only international horse in the Beverly D., but she could leave her mark. A near winner in two major international races against males earlier this year, River Jetez is trained by Mike de Kock, whose two International Festival of Racing starters, Irridescence in the Beverly D. and Archipenko in the Million, both finished second.

Cape Blanco doesn’t arrive until Wednesday, and his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, will have at least one horse for the Secretariat, a race that lost a touch of luster when Virginia Derby winner Air Support was withdrawn from consideration Monday. O’Brien pre-entered Irish 2000 Guineas winner Roderic O’Connor and Irish Derby winner Treasure Beach, though Arlington officials were still uncertain as of Sunday whom O’Brien intended to run. Also in the Secretariat pre-entries is the French colt Ziyarid, whose three-race winning streak has come against lesser foes.

Even with Air Support’s defection, the Secretariat should be an excellent betting race, with O’Brien’s horse, Banned, Casino Host, and Willcox Inn all worthy contenders. The Beverly D. is at least as deep, with Stacelita a possible favorite over Cheetah and River Jetez. At least a minor case can be made for all 11 of the Beverly D. pre-entrants in what should be an intriguing edition of the race.

As for Gio Ponti, he may be catching a break in the weather. Besides his second-place finish to Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, all his recent grass losses have come on courses carrying some measure of wetness. The current Arlington forecast calls for clear skies with moderate temperatures through Thursday night and only a small chance of rain Friday and Saturday, and if that prediction holds, the Arlington turf should be firm for Saturday’s races.