All the hype about a showdown between Irish import Cape Blanco and his American counterpart Gio Ponti fizzled like a match in a thunderstorm during the 29th running of the Arlington Million.
Plopping around a yielding turf course amid a steady rain late Saturday afternoon, Cape Blanco proved for the third straight time -- and with authority -- that this isn't much of a rivalry after all.
"Of course it's not; we met him three times and we beat him three times," Cape Blanco's racing manager Alex Cole said. "Gio Ponti must be sick of the sight of us."
After finishing a spot ahead of Gio Ponti in the Dubai World Cup in March, the pair met again in the Man O' War last month at Belmont Park, where Cape Blanco got first run on a late-charging Gio Ponti to win by a comfortable 2¼ lengths.
Saturday at Arlington Park it was déjà vu all over again.
Because just like in the Man O' War, Mission Approved jumped out to an early lead, was swallowed up by Cape Blanco ($2.10-1) heading for home ... and yet again, Gio Ponti's ($2.30-1) late rally proved too little, too late as Cape Blanco cruised to a 2½ lengths victory.
"The winner had first run on us and you have to give him credit -- we were second best today," jockey Ramon Dominguez said of Gio Ponti, who has finished second in the last two Millions after winning in 2009. "If you put him in striking range too soon, he is going to go too early, and it takes him out of his game."
Nothing seems to take Cape Blanco off his game lately -- not a globe-trekking schedule, not even a yielding Arlington turf course which Cole said his charge "hated."
"It's a long way to travel for soft ground," Cole said with a laugh.
Soft ground, firm ground, good ground ... doesn't seem to matter lately to the Aidan O'Brien trainee, who has shown the heart of a champion with back-to-back Grade I victories.
"There are very few horses that have the will to win like he has," winning jockey Jamie Spencer said. "The more you ask from him, the more you get from him.
"He still had loads left in the end."
For Spencer, Saturday's win had to be a little extra sweet considering the last time he rode in the Million was in 2004 when Powerscourt crossed the line first, but was disqualified and eventually placed fourth.
But if this victory meant a little more to Spencer than most, it was sure hard to tell.
"I try not to dwell on the past," he said with a straight face. "Mine's pretty colorful."
Longshot Dean's Kitten (19-1) finished third while Mission Approved (7-1), who was fourth in the Man O' War, faded to seventh.
"He's a horse who likes the lead," jockey Jose Espinoza said of Mission Approved. "There's not a lot else to say."
There should be plenty left to say about Cape Blanco, who appears headed for another visit to the states come November to run in the Breeders' Cup mile-and-a-half.
And maybe while he's there he'll cultivate a brand new rivalry.