Though the last 12 months have been sensational for Gio Ponti—good enough to earn him dual Eclipse Awards in 2009—the son of Tale of the Cat has also experienced some tough defeats, including a narrow loss to Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) last November.
On March 27, Gio Ponti can more than make up for his three consecutive runner-up finishes with a victory in the world’s richest horse race—the $10 million Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). The 5-year-old colt is included in a wide-open international field of 14 that was drawn March 24 and will go to post at Sheikh Mohhamed’s new $2 billion Meydan Racecourse.
Post time is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. EDT and will be shown live of HRTV, which will also carry the full eight-race World Cup program worth $26.25 million.
The World Cup, which carried a $6 million purse in 2009, will also include two other U.S.-based horses—Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Furthest Land and Zabeel Racing International’s Richard's Kid. Gio Ponti is expected to vie for favoritism with English invaders Gitano Hernando and Twice Over, and France’s top challenger, Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) winner Vision d'Etat.
Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable will send out Mastery and Allybar for Dubai, while top international trainer Mike de Kock has a pair of charges with Mr Brock and Lizard's Desire, both bred in South Africa. Japan’s lone hope in the 1 1/4-mile contest is Red Desire.
Owned by Castleton Lyons and trained by Christophe Clement, Gio Ponti drew post 4 and will have regular rider Ramon Dominguez aboard. The bay horse will be making his fourth career start on a synthetic surface, but his first on Tapeta. As a 4-year-old, Gio Ponti won four consecutive grade I races on turf, but ended the season with runner-up efforts in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Cup, where he was beaten a length after carrying a lead in deep stretch. He began his 2010 campaign with a nose defeat in the Tampa Bay Stakes Feb. 20 on the turf.
Gio Ponti, who has earned more than $3.18 million from his 17 starts, cleared quarantine March 20 and turned in a strong gallop March 23.
“We didn’t want to work him, but we wanted to do a little something so he could stretch his legs,” said assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul. “He is looking better and better. So far, so good. He’s improving every day and getting back to his normal self."
Furthest Land will be a longshot, just as he was when scoring the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at odds of 21-1 last year. The 5-year-old son of Smart Strike, who has finished off the board in two starts since that upset, drew post 8 and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux for trainer Mike Maker. The Ramseys won the World Cup in 2005 with Roses in May.
Richard’s Kid prepped for the World Cup with a narrow victory in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 7 at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert trainee made a name for himself last year when scoring the grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar as a 24-1 outsider. Garrett Gomez has flown in for the mount and they will break from post 10.
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Twice Over has not raced since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 5-year-old Observatory horse is a three-time group stakes winner in England. He drew post 11.
"The idea of taking him to Santa Anita was to see if he would be good enough in a group I race on an artificial surface, with Dubai in mind," Juddmonte's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe told the Racing Post. "I can’t say the Breeders’ Cup was a prep race for the World Cup, but now we know what he can do. If he hadn’t acted on the surface, we could have taken another route.
"So far it’s all going according to plan."
Team Valor International’s Gitano Hernando may be coming into the World Cup better than anyone. The 4-year-old colt has won three in a row, including a 4 1/2-length score in his prep—Betdaq The Betting Exchange Winter Derby Trial Stakes Feb. 27 at Linfield. All three of those triumphs were on synthetic surfaces, including the grade I Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita last October. Kieren Fallon has the mount and they will break from post 2.
“We knew he was good but, it was a big leap to go from a conditions race at Wolverhampton to trying a group I in America," Botti said. "But we believed in him, so did Kieren Fallon, and while winning was a bonus, the best thing was to have it confirmed that he was a genuine group I horse."
Vision d’Etat, an earner of more than $3.8 million, is the most accomplished of all the World Cup contenders, having won four group I races around the world, including the Dec. 13 Cathay Hong Kong Cup. The 5-year-old horse, trained by Eric Libaud, also has victories in the Prix du Jockey Club-French Derby (Fr-I) and Prince of Wales Stakes (Eng-I) to his credit. He will be making his seasonal debut and first start on a synthetic surface.
Also representing France is Gloria de Campeao, who was runner-up to Well Armed in the 2009 World Cup. The 7-year-old horse has two good efforts over the new Meydan Tapeta surface, including a victory in the Invasor Shadwell Farm Al Maktoum Challenge-Round 1 (UAE-III) in January.
Allybar, Mr Brock, Red Desire, and Lizard’s Desire also all have wins at Meydan.
U.S.-based jockey John Velazquez will have the mount on Crowded House, while Aaron Gryder, who is now based in Hong Kong, wil be aboard Amor de Pobre. Gryder was aboard Well Armed during his victory last year.
$10,000,000 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I, Race 8, 1:45 p.m. EST), 4 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Tapeta) PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Allybar (IRE), Ajtebi, al Zarooni
2. Gitano Hernando (GB), Fallon, Botti
3. Red Desire (JPN), Soumillion, Matsunaga
4. Gio Ponti (USA), Dominguez, Clement
5. Gloria de Campeao (BRZ), Pereira, Bary
6. Vision d'Etat (FR), Peslier, Libaud
7. Lizard's Desire (SAF), Shea, de Kock
8. Furthest Land (USA), Leparoux, Maker
9. Crowded House (GB), Velazquez, Meehan
10. Richard's Kid, Gomez, Baffert
11. Twice Over (GB), Queally, Cecil
12. Mastery (GB), Dettori, bin Suroor
13. Mr Brock (SAF), Moore, de Kock
14. Amor de Pobre (CHI), Gryder, Barton