Chris McGrath: Ponti may bar way to Cima triumph

Inside Track
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The Independent Online

The formbook is intended as some kind of ruthlessly impartial record, an ex cathedra directory of measurable achievement. As such, it represents a touching act of faith.

More often than not, of course, it proves an exercise in credulity. Horses give each detail so many shades of meaning that its pages end up reading more like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Every now and then, however, you get a race like the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown last month, which seems to amplify the winner's reputation without the faintest ambiguity. True, the subsequent Group One wins of the second and third that day, Rip Van Winkle and Conduit, have been achieved over eight and 10 furlongs respectively. And Sea The Stars, in beating them over 10, was perhaps uniquely at home in the intermediate discipline. In principle, though, the form is about as equivocal as the Grand Canyon.

Today, moreover, it could conceivably be integrated into the international gold standard. For what kind of further glory might be reflected upon Sea The Stars should Cima De Triomphe, the Sandown fourth, win the 27th Arlington Million?

After all, the difference between the champion and Cima De Triomphe is formally gauged at 10 and a half lengths. In relative terms, the grey's performance smacked of ineptitude, indignity even. So the very fact that a trainer as internationally seasoned as Luca Cumani now considers it worthwhile to take on the best turf runners in North America itself gives new lustre to the constellation clustering round Sea The Stars.

Cumani's judgement commands automatic respect, having come here as long ago as 1983 to win the third Million with Tolomeo. And he is overdue a change of luck on the world stage. In recent months he has had horses beaten in photos for the Melbourne Cup, Hong Kong Vase, Dubai Sheema Classic and Singapore Cup.

Earlier in the week a local network sent a reporter into the South Side and asked his old neighbours what they would give President Obama for his 48th birthday. One man paused, brightened and suggested: "A break?" Cumani will know the feeling. His presence helps to dignify a race that has been somewhat overtaken since first opening new horizons in the international sport. By definition, a million dollars now is not what it was then, not least when measured against the Breeders' Cup – never mind the engorged coffers of Dubai. But if it is no longer the virile pioneer, the Million is still cherished for the standards it set, and retains due resonance. Arlington still summons that tough, proud, stylish sense of place against the languid racing cultures of the Saratoga patricians, on the east coast, and the Del Mar playboys, on the west.

Of course, the vulnerability historically perceived in all the indigenous horses on turf, coast to coast, is now being extended to the new, synthetic surfaces sampled at the Breeders' Cup last autumn. For the moment, however, a card featuring three Grade One races on grass clearly plays to traditional European strengths.

But Cima De Triomphe may yet be found out by the local racing environment. He looks suspiciously deficient in the sort of pace required over 10, turning furlongs on firm ground, even round an American track configured so much more generously than most.

True, he began his campaign by beating Conduit over this trip at Sandown in May, albeit receiving 7lb. And he remains entitled to progress further during his first summer in Cumani's care. As things stand, however, his Eclipse performance implied that he will struggle to cut the mustard as a Group One colt at this trip.

A length away in third that day was Stotsfold, but overall he seems out of his depth. The best chance of an overseas success instead rests with Gloria De Campeao, who scrambled home in Singapore after Cumani's Presvis finally broke free. Though he looked a lucky winner, the pair finished clear and Gloria De Campeao so built upon the foundations he laid in the Dubai World Cup, when second to Well Armed. To say he followed the winner home at a respectful distance understates the situation, 14 lengths being sooner a business of subservience. But perhaps Gloria De Campeao is better on turf, and he would certainly be a fitting winner at this cosmopolitan carnival – being trained in France for a Swede living in Brazil.

But the suspicion is that the home defence, this time, is formidably qualified. Einstein and Gio Ponti have emerged as the best turf runners on the American scene, both showing unusual versatility and consistency. Einstein is in an unexpected pomp, at seven, but Gio Ponti is at a time of life when continued improvement would seem more feasible.

The Irish have sound prospects in the supporting races. Mad About You has been artfully prepared for the Beverly D Stakes by a trainer even Cumani would salute as a pathfinder, in Dermot Weld, while Black Bear Island makes his final start for Aidan O'Brien in the Secretariat Stakes. He will continue his career with Julio Canani in California.

But top billing goes to Gio Ponti. He comes here off three consecutive Grade One wins, and only one colt in Europe has done the same this year – the one who thrashed Cima De Triomphe by more than 10 lengths last time out.

And if Cima De Triomphe could proceed to see off Gio Ponti in his own backyard, the formbook would briefly acquire the status of holy scripture. As ever, however, believe it when you see it.

Shergar Cup is instilled with American spirit

How fitting that the focus of the domestic action today should be the Shergar Cup. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether an international jockeys' challenge of this type would ever have happened but for the spirit of adventure that first prompted the Arlington Million. As it is, this competition has overcome ridicule to become one of the few occasions in British racing likely to engage the casual interest of a layman.

For precisely the same reason, no doubt, some will never take it seriously. Ireland's trio of Richard Hughes, Seamus Heffernan and Neil Callan are favourites to beat rival teams from Britain, Europe and the Rest, but home advantage consolidates the case for Braveheart Move (1.45) under Alan Munro. This colt was a disappointment at Goodwood last week, having looked extremely well handicapped, but his trainer takes the view that he warrants immediate perseverance. Moynahan (2.20) ran the same day and his effort might well require a bit more recuperation, but in principle he looks back to his useful best.

Tomorrow King's Apostle, flying home when flattened in the July Cup last time, seeks Group One redress in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville; he is accompanied from Newmarket by Serious Attitude.

Turf Account


Foolin Myself (2.10 Haydock) Injury has hampered him, but he could prove worth the wait, judging from the way he drew miles clear of the pack with a thriving rival at Ascot last time. He can win his first race since beating Tartan Bearer himself in a maiden at two.

*Next best

Battlemaiden (1.25 Newmarket) Made an eye-catching debut at Ascot. That effort told in the end, but she can show radical improvement here.

*One to watch

Dance The Star (D M Simcock) had promised an imminent return to form at Kempton in June, and looked desperately unlucky not to collect when returning to the same track earlier in the week, boxed in until switched and flying home, just failing.

*Where the money's going

Kingsgate Native is 11-4 from 7-2 with William Hill for the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York on 21 August.