Castleton Lyons' Gio Ponti notched his third consecutive grade I win when he came from off the pace to take the $500,000 Man o' War Stakes (VIDEO) against a star-studded field at Belmont Park July 11.
The 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat won for the fourth time in five starts on Belmont's turf course while defeating five grade I winners. The Christophe Clemente trainee won for the eighth time in 13 starts and upped his earnings to $1,545,800.
Ramon Dominguez was aboard Gio Ponti as they broke from the outside and rated near the back of the field of nine while being hung four-wide. Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) winner Midships was quickest after a quarter mile (:25.23), but was content to press the pace after that as longshot Musketier came along the inside to take over. The German-bred got a half mile in :49.99, six furlongs in 1:13.50, and a mile in 1:37.02. Marsh Side and Quijano were also close up.
Musketier proved stubborn on the front end as he continued to lead the field around the far turn and into the stretch. Marsh Side and Quijano were still in contention with a furlong to run, as was Irish-bred Chinchon, who came rolling through on the inside. But Gio Ponti, who had inched closer around the turn, continued his steady five-wide assault and was able to catch Musketier in upper stretch. He edged clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths.
The final time for 1 3/8 miles on the ‘firm’ turf was 2:12.56. Musketier, sent off at 26-1, held second under Jono Jones, a half-length ahead of Quijano and Andrasch Starke. Chinchon was fourth.
“I was very concerned about the position I had,” Dominguez admitted. “I was very happy with the fact that I was close, knowing that they were going very so slow and having my horse so relaxed. I was not happy about the fact that for one thing, I was very wide and also I was in the clear, which is not really ideal for these turf horses. But he was always relaxed and he proved that he’s a runner. I was very impressed and very pleased with the way he finished.”
Gio Ponti entered the Man o’ War off victories in the Frank Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) in March at Santa Anita and the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) June 6 at Belmont. His only hiccup in four starts this season came in the Strub (gr. II), where he ran fifth on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface in February.
Bred in Kentucky by Kilboy Estate and out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs, Gio Ponti has moved to the front of the older male turf division.
“You know what, it’s nice when they’re that good,” Clement said. “This is his third grade I in a row, it just confirms that at the moment, I’m afraid, he’s got to be the leader of the turf division here. He’s just a very nice (horse).
“He did not have the best trip, being wide – he was widest of all going in to the first turn – but Ramon gave him a great ride, he did not panic, and he still had enough to finish and finished very well. That’s the great thing about good horses – they overcome a few things.”
Sent off as the 2-1 choice, Gio Ponti paid $6.30, $3.50, and $2.70. The exacta (9-1) returned $138 and the trifecta (9-1-3) was a handsome $1,050.
Grand Couturier was fifth, followed by Marsh Side, Interpatation, Dancing Forever, and Midships.