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Debussy stuns Gio Ponti in Arlington Million
By Marcus Hersh
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Winning the Arlington Million two years in a row is hard. No horse, not even John Henry, who won two Millions three years apart, ever has done it. But two hundred yards from the finish line in the 28th Arlington Million on Saturday, Gio Ponti, the 2009 winner and the 4-5 favorite in Saturday’s race, was home free. And then he was not. Debussy, untangling himself from trouble coming into the stretch, rallied furiously in the final furlong and nailed Gio Ponti just short of the wire, beating the 2009 champion older male by a half-length before a crowd of 30,304.
Debussy gave renowned English trainer John Gosden his first Million win in eight tries. Twenty-two-year-old William Buick won his first Million ride, patiently waiting for a hole to open when Debussy got buried behind two dead horses three furlongs from the finish.
“He rides cleverly,” said Gosden. “He doesn’t panic in a race. He didn’t panic today.”
Four-year-old Debussy, owned by Princess Haya of Jordan, won his first Grade 1, and returned $24. Two lengths behind Gio Ponti came Gosden’s other entry, 6-1 Tazeez, who jumped in the air at the start, spotting the rest of the field several lengths before cruising up alongside longshot Quite a Handful to make the pace.
“I thought he’d get caught because of the break,” Gosden said of Tazeez. “He regularly beats the other horse at home.”
Both Gosden horses were fortunate even to make it to Chicago. The plane they had been scheduled to take was canceled, and they were last-minute additions on a Singapore Airlines flight from Brussels.
Racing on a turf course labeled “good,” Quite a Handful led through an opening quarter-mile in 25.30 seconds. Tazeez had drawn abreast of the early leader down the backstretch, and the pair passed the half in 50.04 seconds. Richard Hills aboard Tazeez left Quite a Handful behind entering the far turn, opening a lead of several lengths past the three-furlong marker.
Meanwhile, Gio Ponti and jockey Ramon Dominguez, away well but racing last of nine into the far turn, had launched a flashy move. Gio Ponti, racing at least six paths wide into the stretch, moved powerfully toward the leader at the quarter pole, collaring Tazeez with about an eighth of a mile to run. But as Gio Ponti moved forward, Debussy had gotten hung up in traffic. Debussy had perfect position into the far turn, racing fourth along the rail, but Quite a Handful backed up in front of him, and fading General Quarters kept Debussy hemmed in till the top of the stretch.
“I found a hole as soon as we turned in, and then I had to find another one,” said Buick.
Ducking all the way down toward the rail, Debussy found his best stride in the last 100 yards, buzzing past Gio Ponti before the champion ever had a chance to counter.
“I thought I had enough to hang on,” Dominguez said. “Once I got clear, the horse was idling a little bit, maybe looking at the stands or something. I had a great trip.”
Debussy’s trip was far from great, but the horse clearly suits American racing, if for no other reason than the courses here turn to the left.
“He always hangs left,” said Buick. “You can’t get him off the left rein.”
That makes Debussy a tricky ride, but his young English pilot, the son of a jockey, was up to the task. Buick worked for Todd Pletcher during the winter of 2007 at Gulfstream Park, and rode a handful of races there without winning. The Million was his first victory in the U.S.
Gosden said Debussy would be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Turf, perhaps with one prep race before that start. Debussy, Gosden said, would lack the stamina for a 1 1/2- mile race in Europe, but Gosden thinks the colt can get the trip around three turns at Churchill Downs.
The winner was timed in 2:03.01, 1.70 seconds faster than Paddy O’Prado’s winning Secretariat time. Behind Tazeez in third came Rahystrada, Summit Surge, Tajaaweed, General Quarters, Just as Well, and Quite a Handful. Debussy capped a $300,000 guaranteed Pick 3 that paid $219.60 for a $1 wager. The $1 Pick 4 starting with the Stars and Stripes paid $1,524.30.
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