Belmont track announcer Tom Durkin made note of Gio Ponti being at the back of the pack as the field turned down the backside in the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) (VIDEO), but the colt came from last to first to win the race in dramatic fashion.
For a distance race on grass, there was some pace in the race, with Optimer and Cowboy Cal leading the way, followed by Zambezi Sun and Lauro over the course labeled yielding. They went the opening quarter in :24.38 and a half in :49.08 in the 10-furlong race.
Garrett Gomez was content to let the 4-year-old Tale of the Cat colt bide his time as Cowboy Cal took the lead when the field had run six furlongs in 1:12.70. Cosmonaut moved into contention at that point, and Optimer and Zambezi Sun were still hanging tough as they went a mile in 1:37.42.
Cowboy Cal and Cosmonaut both ran out of steam, however, as the late-runners began their charges down the inner turf course. Gio Ponti was widest of all and rolling as Marsh Side and the ageless one, 10-year-old Better Talk Now, also put in their runs.
Gio Ponti hit the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front of Marsh Side in a final time 2:02.91. Better Talk Now settled for third. Owned by Castleton Lyons Farm, Gio Ponti is trained by Christophe Clement. He was bred by the farm near Lexington in the name of its Kiboy Estate Inc., from the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs.
"I was actually back there and I was a little worried because I was so far back," Gomez said. "He kind of threw his head at the start and he shot off really nice. The only thing that really had me worried was I had Better Talk Now in front of me and next to me and it seemed like I was a little further back then I needed to be. He's never really run a bad race for me and he continues to just get better with age."
Gio Ponti was making his first start since winning the Kilroe Handicap (gr. IT) by a nose at Santa Anita March 7. Besides liking Santa Anita’s turf course, he likes Belmont’s, having won three of four starts on the Belmont grass. He won the Hill Prince (gr. IIIT) in New York as a sophomore. He is now 7-2-0 from 12 starts with earnings of $1,245,800.
This was great," Clement said. "It was a very good race to see him come from last to first. We always thought he was a very good horse. He won a grade I race on a firm turf horse going a mile, now he has won a grade I race at a mile and one quarter on good (yielding) ground. He’s a good horse.”
Gio Ponti paid $9.20, $5, and $3.90. Marsh Side returned $14.20 and $8.60, and Better Talk Now paid $9.80. The exacta (5-3) returned $151 and the trifecta (5-3-8) was $1,859.
Court Vision was fourth, followed by Cosmonaut, Interpatation, Lauro, Wesley, Cowboy Cal, Zambezi Sun, Optimer and Senior.