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Anne M. Eberhardt

Haskin's BC Report: What's All the Fuss?

Paddy O'Prado is heading for the Classic; now it's decision time for Gio Ponti

The way some people are talking, you would think the connections of Paddy O'Prado and Gio Ponti  are suffering from dirt on the brain.

Paddy O’Prado is already committed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), while Gio Ponti was pre-entered with a first preference for the Classic, a race in which he finished second last year on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface. The connections of Gio Ponti are still debating in which direction to go, and while all indications were that the Classic was the race they were leaning toward, the word now is that the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) still is very much in the picture. Most feel this is a no-brainer and that Gio Ponti belongs in the Mile. Because of the indecision, we will direct this more toward Paddy O’Prado for the time being.


The records show both horses are grass horses, and the majority of people feel they should run in their respective grass races – the Emirates Airline Turf (gr. IT) for Paddy O’Prado and the TVG Mile (gr. IT) for Gio Ponti.


From a handicapping standpoint that may seem the logical course of action. But the owners of both horses apparently have their own agendas and are looking for a lot more than winning another grass race, even if it is a Breeders’ Cup event. Gio Ponti is who he is, a top-class grass and synthetic horse at a mile to 1 ¼ miles, and a victory in the BC Mile, while a great way to end his career, will not enhance his reputation and value as a potential stallion nearly as much as a Classic victory. And owner Castleton Lyons places a great deal of emphasis on stallion reputation, so their indecision is understandable.


Paddy O’Prado has developed into a brilliant turf horse, but has not won going farther than 1 ¼ miles, and has only beaten 3-year-olds. But he did finish third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), despite a horrendous trip.


It’s not as if running Gio Ponti and Paddy O’Prado in the grass races are gimmes and the owners are throwing away million-dollar purses. Gio Ponti still would have to beat one of the greatest milers in history, Goldikova, and several other top-class horses, including Paco Boy. Paddy O’ Prado still would have to defeat Workforce, winner of the English Derby (Eng-I) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), as well as a very talented horse in Behkabad at a distance at which he is unproven, having been caught in the stretch by Winchester in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) in his last start. Debussy, who is not considered quite in the class of those two, still managed to knock off Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million (gr. IT), an indicator of just how good the Europeans are.


So what better time to shoot for the moon and explore the unknown? Another factor is that a victory by Gio Ponti in the Classic could at the very least put him in consideration for Horse of the Year. He’s already been the turf champion, so that’s nothing new. A victory by Paddy O’Prado could very well earn him an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old.


You may ask at this point, how are they going to beat all these top-class horses in the Classic. We don’t know that they can. But then again, with Gio Ponti’s dirt breeding and style of running, and with Paddy O’Prado’s breeding and his big effort in the Derby, we don’t know that they can’t.


Gio Ponti’s trainer, Christophe Clement, remained faithful to his grass training by giving the colt his final Breeders’ Cup prep on the grass. So there certainly is no urgency to see how he’ll handle the dirt in the morning.


The bottom line is that it’s called gambling, and that’s what the owners of Paddy O’Prado are willing to do for the chance at history and for their horse to be remembered far longer than if he had won the Turf. If Paddy is a bust in the Classic, he has all of next year to establish himself as the best grass horse in the country. And the BC Turf isn’t going anywhere. Simply put, there is a lot of upside and little downside. The same can be said for Gio Ponti if his connections decide to go that route. The decision is more difficult for them, because everyone wants their horse to go out a winner, and a victory over Goldikova would be quite a swan song.


If they do opt for the Classic, there is no need for criticism. It’s their horse and their decision, and the Classic is an enticing lure. Did anyone criticize Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore when they chose to run Giant's Causeway  in the Classic instead of the Mile, where he would have been an overwhelming favorite (the favorite that year was War Chant at 7-2)? His gutsy effort against Tiznow  no doubt had to help establish his reputation as a stallion, and he wound up becoming one of the leading sires in the world, topping the North American sire’s list in 2009.


Jerry Crawford, head of Donegal racing, is a sharp guy, and is well aware of Paddy’s grass prowess and certainly can understand why many people feel his horse should be in the Turf.  But for now, he and his partners are in the sport to have fun and enjoy their horse, as they did when Paddy gave them the thrill of finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. The horse’s stud value is something they can think about next year. Win or lose, the decision to step out of the box and strive for greatness is to be commended.


They felt even better about their decision after Paddy O’Prado breezed a sharp five furlongs in 1:01 Oct. 30, coming home his final quarter in :24 2/5 before galloping out an other eighth in a strong :13 flat. He then pulled up seven panels in 1:28 2/5.


Briefly catching up on a few works over the past two days: Smiling Tiger turned in an eye-catching work, drilling five furlongs in :58 4/5 after an eventful trip, having to dodge and circle several other workers. But the work that left the biggest impression was the five-furlong drill in :59 3/5 by Japanese filly Red Desire, who is coming up to the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) in excellent shape. She looks to be sitting on a monster effort. She worked in hand and was gliding over the surface, running straight and true.


On Oct. 31, Quality Road had an excellent sharpener, working a half-mile in :48 3/5 in company with Aikenite , and he did it all on his own under no urging. Haynesfield also looked good, breezing a half in :50 1/5 and appeared to handle the track beautifully.


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