Gio Ponti headlines the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Gio Ponti headlines the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap.
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Coglianese Photos

Multiple Turf Champ Gio Ponti Tops Manhattan

1 1/4 mile turf test precedes the Belmont Stakes on June 8.

Multiple Eclipse Award winner and $5.3 million earner Gio Ponti  heads the field of 10 turf specialists that have been entered for the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) on the June 11 Belmont Stakes card.

Trained by Christophe Clement for Castleton Lyons Farm, Gio Ponti won the Manhattan in 2009 and then finished second to stablemate Winchester following a troubled trip in the 2010 renewal of the Manhattan. The 139th running of the historic grass race, run at 1 ¼ miles over Belmont Park’s inner turf course, is race 10 on the card and immediately precedes the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

A 6-year-old son of Tale of the Cat , Gio Ponti is 28th on the all-time leading earners list with a bankroll of $5,337,800 gleaned from 11 wins and eight seconds in 24 career starts. The champion male turf horse in 2009 and 2010 and top older male in 2009, Gio Ponti was fifth, beaten less than two lengths, in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 26, his only start of 2011.

“I’ve always liked him since he was 3 years old,” Clement said. “I’m very conscious of what he’s meant to me and the barn and the owners. He’s training as well if not better than last year. All the signs are there. He’s probably the best horse I’ve ever trained.

“He’s been breezing every week on the Belmont grass,” Clement added. “This is home for him. We’re going race by race. We’re on more or less a similar schedule (as last year). We’re not obligated, though, to do it like last year.”

Another grade I winner in the Manhattan is Prince Will I Am, who scored in the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) last fall at Belmont. Trained by Michelle Nihei for Casa Farms One LLC, the 4-year-old son of Victory Gallop began his 2011 campaign with a victory in the Mac Diarmida (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream. He then finished third in the Pan American (gr. IIT) and a troubled but close-up fifth in the Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs.

“We were the victim of a field that looked like it would have pace and didn’t have any,” Nihei said of the race at Churchill. “It was hard to close. He made up four lengths but he couldn’t get around and go by. I have no trepidation about putting this horse up against the top turfers this year. He really is a star. He’s coming into the race really, really well.”

One Manhattan entrant who is expected to be on the front end of things is Mission Approved, a 7-year-old who is making his first start since finishing second to Gio Ponti in the 2010 Man o’ War (gr. IT).

The son of With Approval is owned and trained by Naipaul Chatterpaul, who has also entered the turf claimer Wishful Tomcat in the Manhattan.

“This horse has a lot of back class,” Chatterpaul said of Mission Approved, who he claimed for $35,000 previous to going off at 53-1 odds in his runner-up effort in the Man o’War. “He’s not a stranger in all these races.”

Among the others in the Manhattan are Al Khali , a Bill Mott trainee who won the Bowling Green (gr. IIT) last fall; Bold Hawk, a 7-year-old who did not race in 2007 or 2010 due to physical problems; Canadian-based Windward Islands, winner of the Nijinsky Stakes (gr. IT) last year; and Viscount Nelson, who competed in four straight group I races last year in England and Ireland, including a third-place finish at 40-1 in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I).

$400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 5:39 p.m.  3YO & Up, 1 ¼ miles, inner turf)

PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Bold Hawk (KY), J Lezcano, 115, J J Toner, 12-1
2. Windward Islands (KY), J R Leparoux, 117, M R Frostad, 8-1
3. (e) Wishful Tomcat (NY), M Studart, 112, N Chatterpaul, 20-1
4. Gio Ponti (KY), R A Dominguez, 122, C Clement, 6-5
5. Al Khali (KY), A Garcia, 117, W I Mott, 10-1
6. Viscount Nelson (KY), G K Gomez, 117, A P O’Brien, 4-1
7. (e) Mission Approved (NY), J L Espinoza, 114, N Chatterpaul, 20-1
8 . Prince Will I Am (KY), J R Velazquez, 119, M Nihei, 5-1
9. Bim Bam (FL), D Cohen, 115, R Moquett, 30-1
10. Straight Story (NY), J Castellano, 116, A E Goldberg, 12-1