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Gio Ponti Leads Turf Classic Nominees

Champion Gio Ponti tops the list of early nominees to Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

Castleton Lyons’ two-time champion turf star Gio Ponti  tops the list of 79 older grass runners who were made eligible during an early nomination phase for the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) on Kentucky Derby day, May 7.

This year is the silver anniversary of the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds and up that is traditionally run immediately prior to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The race is one of three grade I events held on the Derby day racing program and will be televised live nationally on NBC Sports. The day’s card will feature six stakes races worth a total of $3.4 million, including the grade I, seven-furlong Humana Distaff for fillies and mares 4 years old and older.

The number of horses nominated is two fewer than those made eligible for the 2010 renewal, which was won by owner-trainer Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters. McCarthy’s 5-year-old veteran by Sky Mesa  is among the nominees and eligible to defend his title. General Quarters’ 2010 campaign was cut short by injury, but the lone horse in McCarthy’s Churchill Downs-based stable is being prepared to return this year.

Gio Ponti, a 6-year-old son of Tale of the Cat  trained by Christophe Clement, has been one of American racing’s stars for the past three seasons. Along with his Eclipse Award honors the past two years as the nation’s top turf horse, Gio Ponti also was named champion older male in 2009 after finishing second to the champion mare Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). Last fall he ended his 2010 campaign at Churchill Downs with a late-running second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I) to the brilliant French mare Goldikova, who set a record with her third consecutive victory in that race and was named Europe’s Horse of the Year.

Gio Ponti has a lifetime record of 11-8-0 in 23 career starts with earnings of $5,037,800.

Other high-profile nominees to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I) winner Champ Pegasus ; The Usual Q.T., winner of the Eddie Read (gr. I) and Hollywood Derby (gr. I); Citation Handicap (gr. I) winner Victor's Cry; Winchester, winner of Belmont Park’s Grade I Manhattan in 2010 along with his victory in the Turf Classic Invitational; two-time Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. I) winner Telling; Sidney's Candy, who won the 2010 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on a synthetic Pro-Ride surface and later won Del Mar’s La Jolla (gr. II) on grass; Compari, winner of Santa Anita’s Arcadia Handicap (gr. II); Mac Diarmida (gr. II) and W.L. McKnight (gr. II) winner Prince Will I Am; Rahystrada, winner of the 2010 Arlington Handicap (gr. III) and 2009 River City (gr. III) at Churchill Downs; 2010 River City winner Battle of Hastings; Tropical Turf (gr. II) winner Twilight Meteor; Yankee Fourtune, winner of Churchill’s 2010 Commonwealth Turf Stakes (gr. III), and the late-blooming Giant Oak, a versatile 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway who opened his 2011 run with a victory in the grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

The nomination list includes two females: Justaroundmidnight(IRE), winner of Gulfstream’s Marshua’s River (GIII), and the 5-year-old Chilean import Belle Watling(CHI). Both are trained by Patrick Biancone.

A fee of $100 was required to nominate a horse to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic during the early phase, which closed on Feb. 19. A late nomination period, which requires a $1,000 nomination fee, will close on April 13. Supplemental nominations may be made at the time of entry for a fee of $25,000. The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is limited to 14 starters.

The sponsor of the Turf Classic, Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is bottled by the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky., and is a product of Brown-Forman Corp. of Louisville, Ky. It is the “Official Bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.