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Gio Ponti Headlines Manhattan

Gio Ponti rolls in the 2009 Man O' War

With four Grade 1 victories on his resume, Gio Ponti captured dual Eclipse Awards as the top turf male and leading older horse in the country.


After going winless in his first two starts this year, Gio Ponti will seek to reassert his dominance Saturday and defend his title against 10 others in the 109th running of the Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.


The 1¼-mile turf fixture for 3-year-olds and up has attracted six millionaire runners, including Gio Ponti, and shapes up by far as the finest turf field assembled this year. The race joins four other graded stakes on the undercard of the 142nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes.


While Gio Ponti, owned by Castleton Lyons and trained by Christophe Clement, has not visited the winner’s circle since capturing the Grade 1 Arlington Million last summer, he has maintained top-class form. In his most recent start, he finished fourth, beaten 1¼ lengths, in the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race.


While the trip to the United Arab Emirates has at times taxed American horses that have made the venture, Clement said, “He came back in very good order from Dubai. He’s trained very well.”


Clement dismisses the four-race losing streak of Gio Ponti.


“His races have been spectacular,” the trainer said. Referring to his nose loss to Karelian in the Tampa Bay Stakes in February, Clement said, “At the time, people were shocked Karelian beat him, but Karelian went on to win a Grade 1.”


Clement also will run, uncoupled in the wagering, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s Winchester, winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington in 2008.


Gio Ponti’s principal rivals are numerous, but Starlight Partners’ Take the Points, a 4-year-old son of Even the Score trained by Todd Pletcher, commands great respect.


Take the Points, with three Grade 1 wins to his credit, competed in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup Day, finishing fifth. He has been freshened since and returns to the same Inner Turf course on which he captured the Grade 1 Jamaica last October.


“Historically, Dubai is a place where horses that run well do not come back and run well,” said Pletcher’s assistant Jonathan Thomas. “Horses that do not run well come back and maintain their form. This horse is training exceptionally well.”


Florida-based trainer Martin Wolfson looked at the field shaping up for the Manhattan and decided to ship up his front-running 7-year-old gelding Jet Propulsion to try and wire the field.

Winner earlier this year of the Sunshine Millions Turf, Jet Propulsion has never attempted to travel 1¼ miles but Wolfson believes he can get the distance.


“When he breaks in front and is loose on the lead, I don’t think a mile and a quarter will be a problem for him,” Wolfson said. “He’s dangerous the way the race sets up, and I knew there wasn’t a lot of speed in there.”


While Strike a Deal enters the Manhattan off a pace-making score in the Dixie on Preakness Day at Pimlico, the 6-year-old millionaire son of Smart Strike owned by Richard Santulli and trained by Alan Goldberg does not need the lead to win.


“He’s really good right now,” Goldberg said of Strike a Deal. “I’m not overly optimistic, because that’s the nature of the business, but I’m excited about running him. Off the top of my head, Jet Propulsion will probably be on the lead, and you can put (Strike a Deal) wherever he wants.”


Strike a Deal only ran three times last year, held down by a nagging virus. After a dull finish in the United Nations in July, Goldberg turned out the horse on his Colts Neck Farm in New Jersey for a long vacation and returned fresh and ready in the Dixie.


“He stayed there all summer and all winter and came back a different horse,” Goldberg said.


With jockey Ramon Dominguez opting to ride Gio Ponti, Strike a Deal picks up Garrett Gomez for the Manhattan.


One of New York’s grand old warriors, Marc Keller’s 7-year-old Grand Couturier heads into the Manhattan off a tune-up in the 1 1/16-mile Fort Marcy on May 1. A winner of more than $1.4 million, Grand Couturier likes a longer race with a lot of pace to come down on with his stretch punch.


Grand Couturier wintered in Florida, but trainer Robert Ribaudo skipped the turf races down there, opting for a later start with an eye on the rich New York turf events.


“He should be more competitive in this,” Ribaudo said. “This is still a stepping stone for the Man o’ War and Sword Dancer; it’s a progression, but he still acts good.”


IEAH Stables and Resolute Group Stable’s Court Vision has run exclusively in Grade 1 company this year, finishing second all three times. Trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., the 5-year-old son of Gulch finished fourth in the Manhattan last year and has won nearly $2 million.


Lazy F Ranch and William S. Farish’s Pinckney Hill enters the Manhattan “doing unbelievable,” according to trainer Angel Penna Jr.

The 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy has finished first or second in six of seven career starts, with a fourth-place, half-length loss his only off-the-board finish.


“If you don’t try a race like this when the horse is doing this well, when are you going to try?” Penna said. “He’s going to run OK; the key is the mile and a quarter.”


Another millionaire, Just as Well, comes into the Manhattan off a three-quarter-length loss to Strike a Deal in the Dixie. Like Grand Couturier, the longer the race the better for the 7-year-old son of A.P. Indy, owned and trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard.


Long-shot specialist Interpatation, yet another million-dollar winner, finished sixth in the Manhattan last year behind Gio Ponti. The 8-year-old son of Langfuhr took the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Belmont last October at odds of 43-1 for trainer Robert Barbara.


Expansion has run in three straight Grade 2 races for trainer Chad Brown and owners Gary and Mary West and picks up hot rider Javier Castellano for the race. The 5-year-old son of Maria’s Mon bravely rallied for fourth after being blocked and steadied in the 1½-mile Elkhorn on April 23 at Keeneland.


“It’s looking pretty salty,” Brown said of the Manhattan.


The field for the Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan:








Gio Ponti (KY)

R. Dominguez


C. Clement



Strike a Deal (KY)

Garrett Gomez


A. Goldberg



Pinckney Hill (KY)

Rajiv Marah


A. Penna Jr.



Winchester (VA)

C. Velasquez


C. Clement



Take the Points ((KY)

Edgar Prado


T. Pletcher



Court Vision (KY)

R. Albarado


R. Dutrow Jr.



Jet Propulsion (FLA)

M. Garcia


M. Wolfson



Grand Couturier (GB)

Alan Garcia


R. Ribaudo



Just as Well (KY)

K. Desormeaux


J. Sheppard



Interpatation (KY)

J. Lezcano


R. Barbara



Expansion (KY)

J. Castellano


C. Brown





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Older Comments about Gio Ponti Headlines Manhattan...

A great bet against for the win spot. Makes the race a better betting proposition
This is a really good point. People forget, but Mandella is right. Very few horses come back from Dubai and are competitive in May and June. There have been plenty of flops over the years. I wouldn't toss Gio, but I would definitely spread in the Pick 4 around him.
I would "pitch" Gio Ponti- whom I have wagered & won with - many times!! Richard Mandella says that going to Dubai takes a lot out of the horse usually six months to recover. Too soon to take these, at best he goes on the bottom of my exotics.

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