Gio Ponti has been caught nearing the wire three times during a tough-luck campaign in 2010. The dual champion finally had enough of that, this time doing a little catching of his own.
Cutting back to one mile for the first time all year, Gio Ponti niftily split horses in deep stretch under Ramon Dominguez en route to a one-length victory in the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I) (VIDEO) Oct. 9 at Keeneland.
It was the sixth grade I victory for Gio Ponti, the defending champion grass and older horse, and his ninth graded win overall. The 5-year-old son of Tale of the Cat could be headed to the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, though trainer Christophe Clement would not say for sure. The Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on dirt is still under consideration for the bay horse, who finished second in that race a year ago at Santa Anita.
But after Saturday’s performance, it would be hard to imagine Gio Ponti not going in the BC Mile. He posted his second grade I win at one mile, having won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) in March 2009 in his last start at the distance. Now with 11 wins from 22 starts, Gio Ponti has earned more than $4.6 million in his extraordinary career.
“We have a very interesting debate, myself and Christophe,” said owner Shane Ryan, who races his horses under Castleton Lyons. “We’ll see. They’re both great fillies (Zenyatta, who is pointed at the Classic, and Goldikova, who is expected in the Mile); both great races. We’ll be very happy either way.”
Dominguez kept Gio Ponti near the back of the field of six in the Turf Mile, as Acting Zippy and Enriched took their rivals through splits of :24.22, :47.98, and 1:11.91 on the firm turf course. Enriched hit the quarter ole with a narrow advantage, but Courageous Cat, who had advanced on the turn under Pat Valenzuela, assumed the lead at the top of the lane and looked dangerous in upper stretch.
But Society's Chairman and Gio Ponti, the trailers through three-quarters, were both moving quickly on the outside. Society’s Chairman took a brief advantage in mid-stretch while passing Courageous Cat, however could not hold off Gio Ponti, who threaded his way between his two closest rivals inside the sixteenth-pole and once clear, coasted to the wire for an impressive victory.
Society’s Chairman was 1 1/4 lengths in front of Courageous Cat for second.
“I want to give all the credit to my horse and to Christophe because I didn’t really expect him to be that sharp going a mile, and I was so pleased to see him running that close and so handy like this,” Dominguez said. “The horse with Leparoux (Society’s Chairman) was coming on the outside and at that point it was actually the 3 horse, Courageous Cat, who was (drifting) out. They actually bumped into (Gio Ponti), but my horse, I felt pretty confident. He was just taking me every step of the way.”
Gio Ponti, a winner of four consecutive grade I races during his championship 2009 campaign, had won just one of five starts this season entering the Turf Mile while runner-up three times, including the Arlington Million (gr. IT) last out. His win came in the grade I Man o’ War Stakes July 10 at Belmont two starts back.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he’s the best turf horse in the country. I believe he’s got 22 starts; he’s won half of them, and he’s a remarkable horse,” Clement said. “(Choosing a Breeders’ Cup race) is a pretty good problem to have. I’m going to sleep on it tonight, and I’m sure Mr. Ryan will have an answer for me tomorrow or the next day.”
Bred by Kilboy Estate, Gio Ponti is out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs.
Gio Ponti paid $3.60, $2.60, and $2.10 as the favorite. Society’s Chairman filled out an exacta (4-5) worth $32.80 and the trifecta (4-5-3) was $117.
Get Stormy, who had won seven of his last eight coming in, finished fourth, followed by Enriched and Acting Zippy.