Gio Ponti got the nose decision over Court Vision in the $772,500 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) in a tremendous stretch run over the Colonial Downs turf course July 19, spoiling favored Sailor's Cap's shot at a $5 million bonus.
Sailor's Cap, the 6-5 favorite in the 1 1/4-mile event for 3-year-olds, had every opportunity but finished third.
Trained by Christophe Clement for owner Castleton Lyons, Gio Ponti remains undefeated in four starts over firm ground. The only loss of his career came in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, when he finished eighth on Monmouth Park's yielding sod.
A colt by Tale of the Cat , Gio Ponti had already shown his quality with a smashing come-from-behind two-length victory in the one-mile Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park June 6, his first start of the year. In the Virginia Derby, he was sent off as the narrow second choice to Team Valor International's Sailor's Cap, who won the Colonial Turf Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) over soft footing June 21.
Ridden by Garrett Gomez, who took over the mount for the Hill Prince, Gio Ponti found a good stalking position on the outside, alternating between third and fourth in the seven-horse field as Old Man Buck and 39-1 shot Baltimore Bob took turns swapping the lead while loping on the front end. Quarter-mile fractions for the first six furlongs on the sweeping course were :24.78, :49.15, and 1:13.91 before Gio Ponti turned up the pressure while four wide leaving the quarter pole.
Court Vision, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, was moving best of all in upper stretch but was bottled up behind horses and held in by Gomez. After Gio Ponti got the advantage, Court Vision was able to squeeze between horses to engage the leader on the inside for a stirring run to the wire in the final furlong. The two brushed in deep stretch, but Gio Ponti refused to give way under strong urging to win in determined fashion.
“I knew that they were going slow," Gomez said. "I didn’t want to give my horse too much to do. He places himself well, and he’s got a nice flowing stride. When I placed myself early on in the race, fairly close, I wasn’t about to take that away from him. The idea was to keep an eye on Sailor’s Cap and whereabouts he was.”
Sailor's Cap rallied from near the back of the pack with Alan Garcia aboard while carrying top weight of 120 pounds. He had the leaders in his sights mid-stretch but weakened late, finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind.
The final time was 2:02.22.
The Virginia Derby win was the second for Gomez and the first for trainer Clement. Gomez won the 2006 Virginia Derby with Go Between. He chose Gio Ponti over grade II winner Court Vision, a horse he rode during the Triple Crown season.
Had Sailor’s Cap prevailed, the third leg of the $5 million Jacobs’ Investments Grand Slam of Grass is the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 9. The final leg is against older horses in the Oct. 25 Breeder’s Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita.
The $450,000 winner's share of the rich Virginia Derby boosted Gio Ponti's earnings to $640,800. Kilboy Estate bred the winning bay colt, who is out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs.
Gio Ponti carried 118 pounds to victory and paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.10. Court Vision, who ran fourth in the Colonial Derby after a 13th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), returned $4.40 and $3. The $2 exacta was worth $30.40. Sailor's Cap, trained by James Toner, paid $2.20 to show.
Your Round, Southwest, Old Man Buck, and Baltimore Bob completed the order. El Sultry Sun and Budge Man scratched.
Correspondent Nick Hahn contributed to this article.