This Saturday, October 8, 2010, Gio Ponti returns to one of his favorite places on Earth – the starting gate at Keeneland race track.
With the opening of Keeneland’s 2011 Fall meet this Friday, Saturday should see the stands packed on what is supposed to be a gorgeous autumn afternoon in this, the celebration of the 75th anniversary of this gorgeous track, which is located just outside of Lexington.
Keeneland has three stakes races set to go for this first Saturday of the meet, and six for the entire weekend, which is being billed as FallStars weekend. All of the races are part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, which gives the winner an automatic spot in a Breeders’ Cup race in November at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
And that brings us back to Gio Ponti, who will be entering the starting gate for the Shadwell Turf Mile around 5:45 p.m. with his regular rider, Ramon Dominguez, on board. Gio Ponti will be attempting to win the race for the second-consecutive time. He captured the first one last fall, almost to the day, on Saturday, October 9, 2010.
So, now, one year later, the six-year old colt out of Tale of the Cat-Chipeta Springs, by Alydar, is set to try to recapture this race one more time.
He will be facing some tough competition, which includes Get Stormy, who will be attempting to become the first horse to complete a Maker’s Mark-Shadwell Turf, a race he won in Keeneland’s Spring Meet; WinStar Farm’s Sidney’s Candy, who is returning to the turf on which he has posted two Grade 2 victories; and Derrick Smith, a Group 1 winner in Ireland last year, who is seeking his first win of the year.
The full field for the Shadwell Turf Mile, in post-position order from inside to outside, along with jockey and the weight they will carry, is: Tajaaweed (James Graham, 126 pounds), Sidney’s Candy (Joel Rosario, 126), Dance And Dance (IRE) (Jamie Spencer, 126), Zoffany (IRE) (Colm O’Donoghue, 123), Gio Ponti (Ramon Dominguez, 126), Society’s Chairman (Julien Leparoux, 126), Wise Dan (Jon Court, 126) and Get Stormy (Garrett Gomez, 126).
It has been an up-and-down year for Gio Ponti, who is trained by Christophe Clement and owned by Castleton Lyons Farm, as he has raced four times this year, with his top finishes being seconds in the Arlington Million (G1) and Man O’War Stakes (G1), and a third in the Manhattan Handicap (G1). He also was fifth in the 2011 Dubai World Cup (G1).
The only thing he has not had so far in 2011 is a big win. But, that has not always been the case for this award-winning colt.
On a cold winter day, February 28, 2005, a small colt was born at Kilboy Estate, Inc. in Lexington, Ky. As with all newborn horses, the small colt soon worked his way up onto its wobbly legs, went over to its mother and began nursing. Just one of about 36,000 thoroughbreds born that year, no one knew at that time that a new thoroughbred star had been born.
Flash forward two-years later to Belmont Park on September 7, 2007 and a seven-furlong maiden-special weight race. In the starting gate for the first time in his career with Garrett Gomez riding, Gio Ponti broke his maiden with a 2-1/2-length victory, finishing the race in 1:22.01.
That same year, he would also win the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on October 7, with a 1-1/2 length victory. He finished the 1-1/16th miles in 1:45.92.
He then had an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1), which would be just the first of three tough losses in his career in Breeders’ Cup races.
All told, he raced three times in 2007, won two races and finished eighth in a third. Not a bad start to his race career.
In his second year on the track, Gio Ponti scored three graded stakes victories, winning the Hill Prince Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park on June 6, 2008, the Virginia Derby Stakes (G2) at Colonial Park on July 7, and the Sir Beaufort Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park on December 26.
In addition, he finished second in the Del Mar Derby on August 31 and in the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont on October 4. He also had a seventh in the Hollywood Derby at Santa Anita Park on November 30, 2008.
When the year was over, he had raced six times, scored two wins, two seconds and a seventh.
In 2009, Gio Ponti would have the best season of his young career, if not, arguably, the best year of his entire career.
He opened the season with a fifth-place finish in the Stub Stakes at Santa Anita Park on February 7, 2009. A not-so-great start considering his success the previous year. But, it would also be his last poor performance of the year.
From there he went on a four-stakes winning streak. It began a month later with a win in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (G1) at Santa Anita Park on March 7. He then won the Manhattan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park on June 6, then followed that up with a win in the Man O’War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on July 11. He ended his streak with a win in the Arlington Million Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park on August 8.
Gio Ponti’s year ended with two second place finishes, the first in the Joe Hirsh Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont on October 3, followed by a second place to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) on November 1 at Santa Anita Park, in one of the most exciting races in history.
For the year, Gio Ponti ran in six races, won four – in a row – finished second once and fifth once. However, it was that four-race win streak that helped Gio Ponti become a champion, as he earned two Eclipse Awards that year: the 2009 Eclipse Award as Champion Male Turf Horse and the 2009 Eclipse Award as Champion Older Male.
The 2010 season began in Tampa and ended at Churchill Downs in Louisville, with a side trip to Dubai. In other words, there were a lot of miles traveled last year.
Gio Ponti began his 2010 campaign with a second place finish in the Tampa Bay Stakes on February 20. He then traveled to Dubai for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan, where he finished fourth on March 27.
Returning home, he tried to win his second Manhattan Handicap (G1) in a row on June 5 at Belmont Park, but finished second. He came back strong in his next race and did win his second-consecutive Man O'War Stakes (G1) on July 10 at Belmont, but then finished second in the Arlington Million (G1) at Arlington Park on August 21, thus thwarting his attempt to win that one for the second year in a row.
After that, he came to Keeneland for and a chance to win the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (G1), one of the top stakes races in Keeneland's fall meet. Run on October 9, Gio Ponti ended up with a one-length victory in the race, defeating second-place finisher Society’s Chairman and third-place finisher Courageous Cat. Gio Ponti finished the one-mile race – arguably, the biggest win of his 2010 campaign – in 1:36.06.
Gio Pointi would then go to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup, where he ran in the BC MIle and finished second once again, this time to another great filly, Goldikova.
He ended his year with two wins, four seconds and one fourth in seven races. In addition, he was a champion once again, as he was named the Eclipse Award winner as Champion Male Turf Horse.
In an era when horses are retired at an early age, whether they are stallions, geldings or mares, it is great to see a horse still going strong at six years of age.
Unfortunately, for Gio Ponti, his six-year old campaign, while still excellent, has not yet been up to par with the results he is accustomed to achieving.
He began the year in Dubai at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan once again, where he finished fifth in that 1-1/4-mile race.
He followed that up in two familiar races for him at Belmont Park, taking third place in the Manhattan Handicap (G1) on May 11 and second in the Man O'War Stakes on June 9.
In his last race prior to the Shadwell Turf MIle, he finished second in the Arlington Million on August 13, giving him two seconds, a third and a fifth so far this season.
So, as Gio Ponti enters the starting gate at Keeneland this Saturday, he will be seeking his second-consecutive win in the Shadwell Turf Mile, as well as his first win in 2011.
After that, according to an article in today’s Thoroughbred Times Today, Oct. 6, 2011, his trainer says they just might be taking the colt to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 5, where he just might meet up once again with Goldikova, who has won the race three years in a row.
But, that’s a race for another day. This Saturday it is the Shadwell Turf Mile and no matter how he finishes in the race, Gio Ponti’s fans will be lining the rail or watching on television or the internet and cheering him on. He is, and has always been, a fan favorite ever since he first stepped on to a race track. This seems to be especially true here at Keeneland, where this just might be the last time Keeneland fans might get to see him race live.
Without question, Gio Ponti is a champion. With a career mark of 11 wins, 10 seconds, one third and $5,325,950 in earnings in 27 starts, along with three Eclipse Awards, whenever his final race does occur, he will be a thoroughbred for the history books.
For now, let’s all sit back and enjoy watching Gio Ponti this Saturday as he steps into the starting gate at Keeneland, one of his favorite places on this Earth, and tries to win one just more time.
(2nd Photo by Adam Coglianese / NYRA Photos)