Cape Blanco has 'only one challenger'

Gio Ponti is the local favourite, as both horses as regaining form after competing in Dubai.

We have had the "Rumble in the Jungle" but this evening's Arlington Million is being billed as the "Rumble in Chicago". The hype machine shifted up a gear this week ahead of the showdown between Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti in the 29th running of the mile-and-a-quarter Grade 1 contest.

Twice this year the thoroughbreds have clashed, and twice Cape Blanco has come out on top, although with an Arlington Million already in the bag there is a groundswell of support behind Gio Ponti, the local darling who won in 2009.

The pair duelled last month in the Grade 1 Man O'War Stakes at Belmont Park, with Jamie Spencer, Cape Blanco's partner, riding a near perfect race to outwit Ramon Dominguez. It was the four year old's best performance since winning the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes from Rip Van Winkle in September.

Aidan O'Brien's charge was drawn in stall seven in Tuesday's post-position draw, two outside his main rival, and a similar scenario could well play out when the gates open at 2.15am UAE time.

"Realistically, and with all respect to the other runners, Gio Ponti is our only challenger," said Alex Cole, the racing manager to Jim and Fitri Hay, the Dubai-based part owners.

"Cape Blanco's record last year speaks for itself, and that Belmont performance was in spite of the conditions as it rained heavily before the race. We hope he has improved since then, and if he's in similar form we've got a real chance."

If it has taken Cape Blanco nearly four months to finally attain peak form it is because the journey to Meydan racecourse for the Dubai World Cup in March, in which he finished fourth, one place ahead of Gio Ponti, took a lot out of the son of Galileo.

He was disappointing in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp in April and was behind Canford Cliffs in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

No horse that competed in the world's richest race has won on its next start. There have been subsequent successes, Gitano Hernando, who finished sixth behind Victoire Pisa, went on to win the International Cup at Kranji, Singapore in May, but eight of the 14 horses that took part are yet to race.

"A trip to Dubai takes out of them more than you expect," Cole said. "Cape Blanco has been slightly disappointing since but that was simply because he got out of a routine and he had to be trained for the race in December when he should have been having a break."

The Hays also bought shares this year in Fame And Glory, who won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot from Godolphin's Opinion Poll.

That the runner-up went on to win the Goodwood Cup confirms Fame And Glory as the classiest stayer in the world. As a son of Montjeu he is entitled to get better with age.

"Most older horses are campaigned internationally," Cole said. "He's different, though. There is only one Gold Cup worth winning. How much would you realistically pay for an Ascot Gold Cup winner? Especially if they won two, three, or, who knows, even four? That's the plan, anyway."

Published: August 13, 2011 04:00 AM


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