Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti, fresh off victories in the Frank Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) and Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT), will shoot for his third consecutive grade I score July 11 in the $500,000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in New York.
A strong field of nine was entered for the 1 3/8-mile turf event, including California shipper Midships, a winner of three graded stakes in a row; multiple grade I winner Grand Couturier, who makes only his second start of the season; and last year’s Manhattan victor Dancing Forever. Marsh Side, also a grade I winner and runner-up by just 1 1/2 lengths to Gio Ponti in the June 6 Manhattan, could also be a factor. Post time for the Man o’ War is set for 4:12 p.m. EDT.
Gio Ponti should again relish the Belmont turf since the son of Tale of the Cat has produced a 3-1-0 record from four starts over the surface. Overall, the 4-year-old Christophe Clement trainee has already bagged five graded stakes wins in his career and earned more than $1.2 million.
Bred in Kentucky by Kilboy Estate and out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs, Gio Ponti came from well off the pace in both his Kilroe Mile and Manhattan scores. The former was while under Ramon Dominguez, who will get the mount once again. They will break from post 9 in the Man o' War.
“He’s a very good horse, very consistent,” said Clement, who admitted that the ultimate goal for Gio Ponti is the grade I Arlington Million on Aug. 8. “(The distance) is testing him a little bit, but if the ground (stays) firm he should be able to get a mile and three-eighths.”
"He won the Manhattan and the Hill Prince, so he likes Belmont Park. It’s nice in the summer not to have to ship too much (since he is) stabled in New York. It’s also nice to win in New York.”
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Midships might be the only starter hotter than Gio Ponti. The 4-year-old Mizzen Mast colt has won three of his four starts this season, all in California. He began his three-race win streak with front-running triumphs in the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) and San Juan Capistrano Invitational (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita, and on June 6 took the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) by a half-length for his first grade I victory.
Midships, who began his racing career in England before being sent to Bobby Frankel in the U.S., will be ridden by Victor Espinoza. This will be his first start in New York.
Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier was a finalist as the nation’s top older male horse in 2008 after winning both the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) in New York, the latter by a whopping 10 1/4 lengths. Also the 2007 Sword Dancer winner, Grand Couturier came back from a nearly eighth-month layoff in the June 13 Monmouth Stakes for his 6-year-old debut and finished fifth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths by Presious Passion. The English-bred son of Grand Lodge is trained by Rob Ribaudo. Alan Garcia has the ride.
“We like it a little softer than harder,” Ribaudo said. “It will be his second start of the year, and I think he needs another race to be at his best. I hope after this race we’ll have that confidence going into the Sword Dancer (Saratoga, Aug. 15) – that’s still the main objective.”
Phipps Stable’s Dancing Forever won Keeneland’s Elkhorn (gr. IIT) and the Manhattan in back-to-back fashion last year, but has not won in four tries since. The 6-year-old Rahy horse ended his 2008 campaign with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita in October and was third in an optional claimer in his seasonal debut May 31 at Belmont. An on-the-board finish will put the Shug McGaughey trainee over the $1-million mark. John Velazquez gets the call.
“He's a big horse and it took him a while to get things together in his career,” McGaughey said. “He had a break over the winter, and whatever bumps and bruises he had, had a chance to go away. I made the mistake of running on soft turf a couple times last year, and I won’t make that mistake again heading into the Breeders’ Cup. If he gets a firm turf course, he’ll be tough.”
Another to consider is German-bred Quijano, who enters off a victory in the group I Gran Premio di Milano in Italy on June 14. The 7-year-old gelding, which has won 14 of 27 lifetime starts--four of them in different countries--missed by a nose to Marsh Side in the 2008 Northern Dancer Turf (Can-IT) at Woodbine.
$500,000 Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT, Race 7, 4:12 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Musketier (GER), J C Jones, 116, R L Attfield
2. Grand Couturier (GB), A Garcia, 120, R Ribaudo
3. Quijano (GER), A Starke, 123, P Schiergen
4. Marsh Side (KY), J Castellano, 120, N D Drysdale
5. Interpatation (KY), M J Luzzi, 116, R Barbara
6. Chinchon (IRE), R Maragh, 116, C Laffon-Parias
7. Midships (KY), V Espinoza, 123, R J Frankel
8. Dancing Forever (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, C R McGaughey III
9. Gio Ponti (KY), R A Dominguez, 123, C Clement