Gio Ponti started with a stumble and ended with a victory in the Arlington Million, his fourth straight Grade I victory on the grass.
So is the 4-year-old colt the best turf horse in the country?
"I would venture to say that," jockey Ramon Dominguez said Saturday.
A slip at the start proved costly a year ago to Einstein. He never fully recovered and finished fifth.
But Gio Ponti, the 3-2 favorite Saturday, regrouped almost immediately. He had to, because Presious Passion, as expected, roared out to a big early lead in the 1 1/4-mile race.
"I was a little worried when he stumbled coming out of the gate," Dominguez said. "I thought it would compromise my chances, but right away he came back up and was on the bridle, taking me every step of the way."
Gio Ponti finally caught up with Presious Passion and took the lead on the final turn, holding off longshots Just as Well and Stotsfold.
Gio Ponti, owned by Castleton Lyons Farm and trained by Christophe Clement, had won the Grade I Man o' War and Manhattan handicaps at Belmont Park in his two previous starts. He began his streak with a win at the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. With Saturday's victory in the 1 1/4-mile turf race, Gio Ponti gets an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Turf.
"Quite a lot of pressure goes when you go into a race like today," Clement said. "It would be nice to enjoy it. ... He's an exceptional race horse."
Gio Ponti won by 1 1/4 lengths. His winning time was 2:04.19
Gio Pontil paid $5.00, $3.40 and $2.60. Just As Well, who went off at 19-1, returned $11.80 and $6.80. Stotsfold paid $9.80.
Seven-year-old Einstein re-entered the race this year and finished fifth again but may have played a role in the outcome, according to Just As Well's trainer.
"He (Just As Well) was tracking the winner around the last turn but then Einstein weakened and dropped in front of him, which broke his stride slightly," Jonathan Sheppard said. "I'm not saying we would have won, but he would have made it closer."
Earlier, jockey Kent Desormeaux rode winners in both of the other two Grade I races Saturday at Arlington Park.
Dynaforce, who started at 7-1 odds, caught Tizaqueena in the stretch and captured The Beverly D., a $750,0000 race for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up. Trained by William Mott, Dynaforce earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Saturday's victory
Dynaforce paid $17.20, $8.60 and $4.80. Irish-bred Alnadana was second, returning $9.60 and $5.00. The favored Pure Clan finished third and paid $2.40. Tizaqueena ended up fourth.
Desormeaux also took Take The Points to a victory in the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds. Take The Points came strong on the outside and overtook Black Bear Island in the final strides to win by a head.
Take The Points, owned by Starlight Partners and trained by Todd Pletcher, paid $7.40, $4.00 and $3.20. Irish-bred Black Bear Island was second and returned $5.20 and $3.80. Laureate Conductor took third and had a payout of $5.20.
Desormeaux's bid to win all three ended when he finished sixth in the Million aboard Mr. Sidney.
"I think the distance may have been a little bit too far for him," Desormeaux said. "But it was a good day at the office. Two out of three ain't bad."
Long-shot Recapturetheglory was scratched from the nine-horse Million field Saturday morning. There was overnight rain at Arlington Park but the turf was in good condition by the first race. Temperatures were in the high 80s and breezy.