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Cape Blanco has Gio Ponti’s number at Arlington Million

Cape Blanco with Jamie Spencer irons pounds down stretch wMillion. | Four Footed Fotos

Cape Blanco, with Jamie Spencer in the irons, pounds down the stretch to win the Million. | Four Footed Fotos

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM

There doesn’t seem to be a rivalry between Gio Ponti and Cape Blanco — at least not now after Cape Blanco beat Gio Ponti by 21/2 lengths for the second time this ­season in Saturday’s 29th running of the Grade I Arlington Million stakes race at Arlington Park.

With the victory, the Irish-bred horse advances to November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

“Gio Ponti must be sick of the sight of us,” said Alex Cole, racing manager for the Hay family that owns Cape Blanco. “He’s had quite a long year and he kicked off the season in Dubai. We met [Gio Ponti] three times and three times he’s [lost]. Gio Ponti didn’t have the greatest run here.”

Cape Blanco, trained by Aidan O’Brien, won the turf race for 3-year-olds and up in 2:05.39 and paid $6.20 to win. Dean’s Kitten was third and Wigmore Hall finished fourth.

Cape Blanco’s victory capped a day in which the favorites won each Grade I stakes race. Cape Blanco was a 9-5 favorite. Going into the Million, Cape Blanco had amassed nearly $3 million in earnings and won the Group I Irish Derby in 2010.

This is the third time this year that the horses have raced each other, but it is the second time they have finished 1-2. They last met in July at the Grade I Man ‘o War Stakes at Belmont Park, where the 4-year-old Cape Blanco narrowly beat a hard charging Gio Ponti. It seemed a bit similar to the two horses’ finish at the Million.

And in March the two squared off in the Dubai World Cup, where Cape Blanco finished fourth and Gio Ponti fifth.

Heavy rains moved through Arlington Heights just past 1 p.m., delaying the 12-race International Festival of Racing card for about 20 minutes. But a steady rain began during the Beverly D. stakes race and continued during the Million. The turf course was rated as yielding for most of the day.

“Cape Blanco hated the ground, absolutely hated it,” Cole said. “It’s a long way to come, from Ireland, for soft ground. It played against us, but there’s a heart of a lion in that horse.”

Cape Blanco’s jockey, Jamie Spencer, held his horse in fourth place for the first quarter-mile of the 11/4-mile race and moved up to second at the mile mark. Mission Approved, starting from Post 8, led for the first mile, but lost the lead in the straightaway to Cape Blanco and finished seventh.

“[Cape Blanco] was so fresh and just wanted to get on with it [seven minutes before post time],” Spencer said. “He’s a high-class horse and he has such a big heart. I just got lucky. All I did was do the steering. Aidan gave me my instructions and I rode accordingly.”

The six-year-old Gio Ponti, who won the Million in 2009 and was runner-up last year, made a record-tying third consecutive Million start and was vying to become the first horse since John Henry (1981, 1984) to win the Million twice.

Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who won the Beverly D. Grade I stakes race less than an hour before the Million aboard Stacelita, tried to move Gio Ponti into the lead in the homestretch but didn’t have enough. Dominguez was able to ride Gio Ponti from seventh at the mile mark to second at the finish.

“The winner had first run on us and you have to give him credit; we were second-best today,” Dominguez said. “If you put him in ­striking range too soon, he is going to go too early and it takes him out of his game. He isn’t 3 anymore, but he runs so good every time he’s out there.”

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