08/19/2010 1:44PM

Can't overlook European invaders in Arlington stakes

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Four-Footed Fotos
Tazeez figures to be the most dangerous of the European invaders in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Gio Ponti is the morning-line favorites for the Arlington Million at Arlington Park on Saturday, but it would be unwise to trust him with too much of your money.

America’s best turf horse, Gio Ponti, has lost five of his last six starts. What he beat in Belmont’s Man o’ War Stakes last time in snapping his five-race losing streak is hardly worth mentioning, especially as the painfully slow pace turned the race into a sprint. The question hanging over this year’s Million is: Is there anything in the race good enough to beat Gio Ponti?

The absence of firm-ground-shy Famous Name weakened the Million considerably. The most coddled horse in the world after Rachel Alexandra, Famous Name is a genuine Group 1 turfer that has spent most of the last two years beating up on Group 3 and listed race company. But trainer Dermot Weld doesn’t want to risk him on firm turf, and so he kept his 5-year-old son of Dansili at home in his barn at the Curragh, awaiting the soft going more readily found during the European autumn.

Of the three Million raiders from Europe, all of them from England, Tazeez is the most dangerous, more dangerous, even, than any of Gio Ponti’s American rivals. The race on his r é sum é that pops out is his 1 1/4-length third behind Byword and Twice Over in Royal Ascot’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the Million distance of 1 1/4 miles. Those two have since finished a close third and second, respectively, to Rip Van Winkle in the Juddmonte International Stakes, both efforts being virtually as good as what they produced at Ascot. And what they produced at Ascot is better than anything Gio Ponti has managed since he won last year’s Million.

You can forgive Tazeez for his third in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes last time as he didn’t quite stay 12 furlongs in his first attempt at that distance. He has been in the first three in 10 of 16 tries at 10 furlongs and should be near the front in the early going. His best Racing Post Rating this year is 121, compared to Gio Ponti’s 2010 best of 119 for his troubled second in the Manhattan Handicap.

Like Tazeez, Debussy is trained by John Gosden, but he is an inconsistent sort who finished 2 3/4 lengths fourth last time behind the third European in the Million, Summit Surge.

Trained by Luca Cumani, the man who engineered Tolomeo’s upset of John Henry in the 1983 Million, Summit Surge ran his career best last time when winning the Group 2 York Stakes. He is a genuine Group 2 type, but Gio Ponti is a genuine Grade 1 type. Note that the horse Summit Surge beat into second in the York, Bushman, finished last of nine in the Juddmonte International, and while that race was much tougher than the Million, Bushman’s performance does not bode well for Summit Surge’s chances, especially as he has drawn widest of all in post 10 in the Million’s peculiar starting position.

The first three from the Arlington Handicap, Rahystrada, Just as Well, and Tajaaweed are all stepping up in class. In the end, this looks like a contest between Gio Ponti and Tazeez.

European hopes in the Beverly D. look slim. Pachattack has won a couple of listed races of late, while Biased, who will be the only one of the six European raiders to run without Lasix, failed to win at that level last time. The ex-foreigners Treat Gently, Ave, and Gypsy’s Warning should all be considered in the exotics. Beware Gypsy’s Warning, who was 1 1/2 lengths behind Ave last time giving five pounds but meets her Saturday at equal weights.

The Secretariat looks like a match between the accomplished and still improving Paddy O’Prado and course specialist Workin for Hops, but ignore Wigmore Hall at your peril. Any of Wigmore Hall’s last three efforts puts him right there, although he is a notoriously poor starter and jockey Jamie Spencer, renown for reserving his mounts early, may leave him too much and too late to do it. His best RPR this year is 111, while that of Paddy O’Prado, who spots Wigmore Hall three pounds, is 112.