Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti, who has established himself as one of the top 3-year-old turf runners in the nation this year, looks to return to his winning ways when he takes on six sophomores in the $250,000 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT) Oct. 4 at Belmont Park, a nine-furlong test on the inner turf.
Gio Ponti, a son of Tale of the Cat, put together consecutive graded stakes victories this summer—first taking the Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont and then nosing out current entrant Court Vision in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) at Colonial Downs. The Christophe Clement trainee then shipped to California for the Aug. 31 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) and came up a half-length short after being sent five-wide into the lane.
“After he won the Virginia Derby, we thought we had a very good chance to win at Del Mar,” Clement said. “We were disappointed that he didn’t win, but not disappointed in the horse. He ran a good race, and if he runs well on Saturday, we’ll take him back to California for the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT, Nov. 30).”
Bred in Kentucky by Kilboy Estate, Gio Ponti is out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs. He is 4-1-0 from six starts and has earned $710,800. Alan Garcia will get the mount for the first time.
It has been a whirlwind 12 months for IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm’s Court Vision. During that span, the son of Gulch won the Remsen (gr. II), became a Triple Crown contender, finished a disappointing 13th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was switched to the turf by Bill Mott, and most recently, went back to the dirt when finishing sixth in the Travers (gr. I). Now, the versatile colt moves back to the grass and gets a chance to exact revenge on Gio Ponti, whom he dueled with down the stretch in the Virginia Derby.
“He’s an unusual horse in that he has proven he can run on any surface,” Mott said. “That was the reason we tried him on the turf in the first place, to find his best surface. And in the Virginia Derby, he just got beat. He ran a winning race, even though he didn’t win.
“To me, he is a very useful horse and one that I think will be a very interesting horse next year. He has run from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter, and as I said, he handles any surface. We would love to get a graded stakes win on the turf here. We haven’t looked far beyond this race. I think that after the first of the year, we will have a lot of options with him.”
Court Vision, who is 3-2-2 from 10 starts, will be ridden by John Velazquez for the first time.
Also to consider in the Jamaica is Willmott Stables’ Wesley, a consistent colt who won over the Belmont grass three starts ago in allowance company. Since then the son of El Prado also scored in the Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga, where he got up late to pass current entrant Thou Swell by a half-length. Most recently, the Mark Hennig trainee was fifth, but beaten less than two lengths by Adriano in the Kent Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Delaware Park. Overall, he is 3-2-0 from seven starts this season. Edgar Prado rides.
$250,000 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 6, 3:39 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Slambino (KY), 114, Channing Hill
2. Wesley (KY), 117, Edgar S. Prado
3. Thou Swell (KY), 115, Jean-Luc Samyn
4. Gio Ponti (KY), 119, Alan Garcia
5. Court Vision (KY), 117, John R. Velazquez
6. Ready's Echo (KY), 114, Eibar Coa
7. Roman Tiger (FL), 115, Rajiv Maragh