Karelian Stuns Champion Gio Ponti
Photo: Tom Cooley Photography
Karelian (right) holds off Gio Ponti to win the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup.

Gio Ponti  , the champion male turf horse and champion older male of 2009, was upset at 1-5 odds in his seasonal debut Feb. 20 when 5-1 shot Karelian won a head bob and the $150,000 Tampa Bay Breeders’ Cup (VIDEO).

Ridden by Tampa Bay-based Rosemary Homeister Jr. for trainer Rusty Arnold, Karelian assumed the early lead in the 1 1/ 16-mile turf test and set moderate fractions while being stalked by Gio Ponti from a safe distance. As the field rounded the second turn, jockey Ramon Dominguez set the champion down for a challenge to the front-runner and they engaged in a spirited stretch duel. 

Just when it looked like Gio Ponti would run by Karelian, the early leader dug deep and it became obvious the outcome would be determined by a head bob. At the wire, the decision went to Karelian, an 8-year-old gelding who races for his Kentucky breeder, Green Lantern Stable. The final time was 1:42.61. 

But there was more drama to follow, as the stewards initiated an inquiry and Dominguez lodged an objection against the winner over the running in the stretch. Tape replays showed that Karelian was drifting out off the rail and that Gio Ponti also drifted in the latter stages of the race. After several minutes of deliberations, the final order of finish was unchanged. 

Karelian paid $12.80, $3.00, and $2.40. Gio Ponti was worth $2.10 and $2.10. Rahystrada, the 122-pound highweight who conceded six pounds to the first two, finished third and paid $3.40. The exacta was worth $23.40 and the trifecta paid $241.10. 

The Tampa Bay race was the first for Gio Ponti, trained by Christophe Clement, since his game second to champion Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).

"We loved the set-up of the race coming in," Arnold said. "We didn’t think there was any speed in the race, which was really why I chose to come here. I know my horse isn’t Gio Ponti, but he’s a pretty good horse. If you take out the last race, he has run nothing but good races. His race in the Shadwell Mile against the same caliber horses was great. We wanted to try Christophe’s (Clement, trainer of Gio Ponti) horse coming off of a mile and a quarter. We thought that would dull him a little bit, and if we could get the speed and control it. It worked out by an inch, so it worked out well. "

Arnold said Karelian’s next race would be the Maker’s Mark Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland.

"I am so gratefull that i was given the mount on this wonderful horse," Homeister said. "Mr. Arnold told me before the race that this was one easy horse to ride and to just let him do it his way and if i did he would give me something in the stretch...and he surely did. He settled down for me before we got into the backstretch and i was able to wait until we were challenged. And he had just a little bit more to give at the wire. What a nice horse."

 

"He is an amazing horse and even when he was upset waiting in the gate i knew he would run his race. He sure did. He was relaxed waiting on the leader. Getting into the turn i asked him and we really got running in the run into the stretch. I thought we might have won even though we were being pushed out nearing the line."

"It was really just what he needed, a good strong race. The pace was perfect for us and just look at the final time; they were really running fast at the end. This should set him up just right!

An 8-year-old gelded son of Bertrando, Karelian has won nine of 20 starts and was making his first outing since finishing eighth as the 8-5 favorite in the grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs last November. Raced only three times in 2009, Karelian's last victory came in the 2008 River City. He finished second in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland and then was sixth, only 3 3/ 4 lengths behind winner and champion Goldikova, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT).

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