Gio Ponti Invades for Del Mar Derby

Gio Ponti Invades for Del Mar Derby
Photo: Coady Photography
Virginia Derby Winner Gio Ponti heads to California for the Del Mar Derby.
Winner of the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) in his last start, Gio Ponti switches coasts for New York-based trainer Christophe Clement and takes a shot at the best the California 3-year-old turf division has to offer in the $350,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Aug. 31.

Gio Ponti is part of a strong 10-horse field for the nine-furlong grass test. It includes Sky Cape, on a three-race win streak after capturing the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) over the course three weeks ago, as well as Oceanside Stakes winner Kilderry and Cinema Handicap (gr. IIIT) victor Tiz West. Julio Canani also enters a strong pair: Blue Chagall, a group III winner from France, and La Jolla runner-up Tangled Tango.

Prior to his triumph in the $772,500 Virginia Derby at 1 1/4 miles July 19, Gio Ponti was an impressive winner of the Hill Prince (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park, storming from last in the field in the one-mile event to post a two-length win June 6. In the Virginia Derby, the bay colt gamely outfought Court Vision in a bumpy stretch drive to win in an all-out drive.

Gio Ponti arrived from Saratoga earlier in the week for Clement.  A son of Tale of the Cat   out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs, Gio Ponti has won four of five lifetime starts and earned $640,800 for owner Castleton Lyons.

He is undefeated in four starts over firm going. The only loss of his career came in an eighth-place finish in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. The winner of that race, Nownownow, is in the Del Mar Derby field. Gio Ponti must overcome the far outside post and will have Garrett Gomez aboard once again.

After upsetting the La Jolla at odds of 12-1 three weeks ago, Sky Cape comes right back for trainer Kristin Mulhall, who also bred the Najran colt and is part owner with longtime client Steve Taub.

Sky Cape posted stakes wins at Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields prior to the 1 1/16-mile La Jolla, where he was overlooked after missing the opening-day Oceanside Stakes due to illness. One of five entered in the Del Mar Derby after running in the La Jolla, the chestnut was never far off the pace before seizing the lead in the stretch run en route to a convincing 1 1/2-length victory.

In 14 starts, by far the most in the field, the Kentucky-bred Sky Cape has five wins, four seconds and a third, and earnings of $320,230. Joel Rosario, who rode Sky Cape for the first time in the La Jolla, has the mount once again and they'll break from post 8.

Four others entered in the Derby come in from the La Jolla: Tangled Tango, who overcame some traffic difficulty early on to finish second; Madeo, who was fourth for trainer John Shirreffs after trailing for much of his turf debut; Nownownow, who rallied for fifth after a rough start; and the Richard Mandella-trained Tiz West, who caused lots of problems for jockey Victor Espinoza for the first half of the race and faded to finish last as the 5-2 choice, more than 12 lengths behind Sky Cape.

Tangled Tango, an Everest Stables-bred son of Petionville  , ran third behind Dixie Chatter in the second division of the Oceanside July 16. The Canani trainee is the only one in the field attempting to participate in all three legs of Del Mar's 3-year-old turf stakes program.

Dixie Chatter would have been a leading contender here but a fever knocked him out of consideration for trainer Richard Mandella, who still has Tiz West. The Diamond A Racing Stable homebred son of Gone West won the Cinema by a nose prior to his troubled effort in the La Jolla. Tiz West signaled his readiness for a return to form with a recent six-furlong drill in 1:11 3/5.

Another contender is Kilderry, who motored down the center of the course in the first division of the Oceanside to get up by a nose over Moral Compass for trainer Mike Mitchell. Rafael Bejarano maintains the mount the E Dubai  gelding who has won three of his past four starts.

Blue Chagall makes his first start in this country. The French-bred, trained by Canani, has run in four straight group races in France, including the Criterium International (Fr-I) as a 2-year-old, finishing fifth of six, and the French Two Thousand Guineas (Fr-I), where he was 16th of 19 in his most recent outing May 11. French-born Brice Blanc gets the ride on Blue Chagall, who won a group III at Longchamp as a juvenile.

Nownownow split the La Jolla field after beginning the year with a last-place finish (among five) in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) at Curragh May 24. His Breeders' Cup win came over a yielding track at odds of 12-1.

The others are Captain Roy, with Michael Baze aboard for trainer Bob Hess Jr., and Spinning Sound with Alex Solis for trainer Patrick Gallagher. Both are stepping up out of allowance conditions.

$350,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT, Race 9, 6 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Tangled Tango (KY), Tyler Baze
2. Kilderry (KY), Rafael Bejarano
3. Captain Roy (KY), Michael C. Baze
4. Madeo (KY), Mike E. Smith
5. Tiz West (KY), Victor Espinoza
6. Nownownow (KY), Julien R. Leparoux
7. Blue Chagall (FR), Brice Blanc
8. Sky Cape (KY), Joel Rosario
9. Spinning Sound (IRE), Alex O. Solis
10. Gio Ponti (KY), Garrett K. Gomez
Each assigned 122 pounds.

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