Thanks to his fourth consecutive grade I turf victory—the Aug. 8 Arlington Million—the summer had not even ended when Gio Ponti locked up the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion male turf horse.
Although the 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat would not win another race the rest of the season, he still had enough credentials to make history by becoming the first horse ever to collect an Eclipse Award for champion older male without winning a race on dirt.
As a 3-year-old, Gio Ponti showed signs of greatness by winning three graded stakes events, but the bay colt took his game to another level last year, beginning with a victory in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita for his first grade I score of his career. Conditioned by Christophe Clement for Castleton Lyons, Gio Ponti shipped east for his summer campaign and notched back-to-back wins in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) and the Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT)—both at Belmont—to establish himself as the top turf horse in the United States.
A 11⁄4-length triumph in the Arlington Million not only solidified Gio Ponti’s elite status but was enough to put him in the conversation for Horse of the Year honors. Gio Ponti finished second in his final two starts of 2009—the Oct. 3 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont and the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride.
Clement said what separates his star from others is Gio Ponti’s versatility.
“He’s won anywhere from a mile to 11⁄4 miles. He’s won by staying close to the pace or from off the pace. He’s won on a number of different kinds of surfaces, at many tracks. He can do everything,” Clement said after the Arlington Million.
Bred in Kentucky by Shane Ryan’s Kilboy Estate (Ryan serves as president of Castleton Lyons), Gio Ponti is out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs. His record of 4-2-0 from seven starts in 2009 earned him $2,333,000.
First-place vote totals: Gio Ponti, 184; Einstein, 18; Kodiak Kowboy, 16; Macho Again, 5; Furthest Land, 2; Rail Trip, 2; Well Armed, 1.