After losing four of his last five starts, some are of the opinion that Gio Ponti has lost a step. But with the turf handicap division wide-open this year, the two-time reigning turf champion still has a chance to remain one of the leaders and he can do that while attempting to make history in the $600,000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) July 9 at Belmont Park.
Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti will try to become the first horse to win three consecutive editions of the Man o’ War, which will be run at 1 3/8 miles on the Belmont turf course. A field of seven was drawn.
There have been three other horses that have won two straight runnings of the Man o’ War, but no horse has ever put together three in a row.
Regular rider Ramon Dominguez will keep the mount on Gio Ponti and they will break from post 5. He was pegged as the 2-1 morning-line favorite despite losing both starts this year, a fifth-place showing in the March 26 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) and a third-place effort in the June 11 Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) over a yielding course when Mission Approved went wire-to-wire at 21-1.
Gio Ponti, who is out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs, is 5-3-1 from nine lifetime starts on Belmont’s turf course. Overall, he is 11-8-1 from 25 starts with earnings of $5,377,800.
“A record-breaking third win in the Man o’ War would be a great achievement at a track where Gio Ponti has enjoyed some remarkable days in his illustrious career to date,” said Shane Ryan, Gio Ponti’s owner and breeder. “However as always these grade I’s are never easily won. We respect the opposition and hope that Gio Ponti runs his best race on Saturday.”
“It’s exciting, you know? It’s a big grade I, and he’s won it the last two years so let’s try to do it a third time,” said trainer Christophe Clement of Gio Ponti, champion turf horse in 2009 and 2010 and champion older male in 2009. “It’s New York—it’s never easy.”
Mission Approved’s narrow miss in last year’s Man o’ War came off a $35,000 claim by trainer and co-owner Naipaul Chatterpaul. He returned from an 11-month layoff to spring the Manhattan upset. The 7-year-old son of With Approval is expected to set the pace once again with Jose Espinoza aboard.
“He’s doing awesome,” said Chatterpaul. “I think he is going to ruin a big race.”
The 5-2 second choice on the morning-line is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Cape Blanco, a multiple group I winner in Europe who will be making his United States debut while racing with Lasix for the first time. Fourth just ahead of Gio Ponti in the Dubai World Cup, the 4-year-old Irish-bred Galileo colt subsequently was fourth in the April 30 Prix Ganay-Prix Air Mauritius (Fr-I) at Longchamp and sixth behind Canford Cliffs and Goldikova in the June 14 Queen Anne (Eng-I) at Ascot going one mile.
Cape Blanco, who will be ridden by Jamie Spencer, scored his last win in the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) last September. He has earned more than $2.6 million from 12 lifetime starts.
Seeking his first grade I victory is Bearpath, who was fourth in last year’s Man o’ War. Most recently, the 5-year-old son of Dynaformer was nosed out at the wire in the Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) on May 28.
“You don’t have a lot of choices with a 1 1/2-mile horse,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “We think he’s a grade I caliber horse; he’s just got to get a notch better. He’s a bigger, stronger horse now, and I am very happy with him.”
Taking a big step up in class is the Phipps Stable’s Boisterous, making his first start in a graded stakes after winning two of his three 2011 starts, including the Three Coins Up overnight stakes on May 22.
“I think he continues to improve,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “Whether he improves enough to be able to run with Gio Ponti and Bearpath and some of them, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Also in the mix is Al Khali, who won the Bowling Green (gr. IIT) at the Man o’ War distance last September and was most recently fourth in the Manhattan. Trained by Bill Mott, the 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro looks to snap a six-race winless streak.
Completing the field is Nownownow, the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner who was fifth in the Monmouth Stakes (gr. IIIT) on June 12 and is winless since January 2009.
$600,000 Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:17 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Mission Approved (NY), J L Espinoza, 123, N Chatterpaul
2. Bearpath (KY), F Lenclud, 116, I R Wilkes
3. Boisterous (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, C R McGaughey III
4. Al Khali (KY), A Garcia, 118, W I Mott
5. Gio Ponti (KY), R A Dominguez, 120, C Clement
6. Nownownow (KY), E S Prado, 116, P L Biancone
7. Cape Blanco (IRE), J P Spencer, 120, A P O'Brien