Gio Ponti , driving for the wire under a frantic Ramon Dominguez, got up just in time to nose the outstanding mare Ventura in the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) (VIDEO) on the Santa Anita turf March 7.
Advancing on the outside, Gio Ponti tracked the odds-on choice Ventura through the stretch and managed to squeeze out the narrow win for trainer Christophe Clement and owner Shane Ryan's Castleton Lyons. A two-time graded winner last year, Gio Ponti went over the $1 mllion mark in career earnings while claiming his initial grade I victory in a sharp time of 1:33.65 on firm going.
Ventura, ridden by Garrett Gomez, got the lead from a game Dixie Chatter near the sixteenth pole, but drifted inward for a couple of strides. Gomez got her quickly straightened out, but the brief miscue was probably enough to get Juddmonte Farms' grade I-winning homebred beaten.
"She just took a couple of steps in," Gomez said. "She was kind of creeping around me. It was hard to keep her straight, but she ran a real respectable race."
Dixie Chatter, with Tyler Baze aboard, finished three-quarters of a length back in third, with Global Hunter fourth. The late-running Artiste Royal, carrying high weight of 119 pounds, took fifth, followed by Mr Napper Tandy, Becrux, Victory Pete, Wise River and the pacesetter Hewitts.
Mast Track and Monterey Jazz, both expected to provide the pace, were scratched, leaving the 24-1 shot Hewitts to show the way. With Wise River in close attendance after an easy opening quarter mile of :23.26, the two continued to lead through a half-mile of :46.31 and six furlongs in 1:09.86. Dixie Chatter, racing in third, angled out leaving the final turn and gained the lead while four wide.
Ventura, saving ground after leaving from the inside post in the 10-horse field, also angled out four paths for the drive, getting the lead approaching the sixteenth marker. But she came up just short at the wire to the rallying Gio Ponti in a terrific finish.
“I was trying to save ground and I was trying to follow Ventura," Dominguez said. "She was getting a great trip and so were we. My horse is usually on the bridle, but they were going pretty quick so he was nice and relaxed. When Garrett (Gomez) asked her(Ventura) to go at the three-eighths, that filly just took off and I didn’t know if I could catch her."
Gio Ponti, a 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat , has won six of 11 lifetime starts, with two seconds and earnings of $1,005,800.
The winner was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Strub Stakes (gr. II) one month ago on the Pro-Ride racing surface.
“Winning a grade I like this is a big achievement," said Nicholas Bachalard, Clement's West Coast assistant. "He didn’t run that bad his last race. Maybe I didn’t have him tight enough, but he came into the race in good shape this time and he ran very big."
Kilboy Estate Inc. bred the winner in Kentucky, The bay colt is out of Chipeta Springs, by Alydar.
Sent off as the second choice while carrying 118 pounds, Gio Ponti paid $12.80, $5.40 and $3.60. Ventura, who won the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) in her most recent start for trainer Bobby Frankel, returned $3 and $2.60 while part of a $2 exacta worth $33.80. Dixie Chatter, switching back to the turf for trainer Richard Mandella following a fourth-place finish in the Strub one month ago, paid $4.40 to show.