Race of the Week 2017

Gio Ponti Back on Winning Track

Reigning Turf Champion and Older Male Gio Ponti ran down 53-1 pacesetter Mission Approved in the final strides of the $600,000 Man o’War Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park to win consecutive runnings of the race and capture his fifth career Grade 1 victory.


Breaking from the far outside as the 2-5 favorite in the field of eight, Gio Ponti settled in last as the field crawled through opening fractions of 26.13 and 52.27. He advanced coming out of the far turn, swung four wide into the lane and closed unrelentingly after splitting horses in the stretch to prevail by a neck over the Naipaul Chatterpaul-trained Mission Approved, who led nearly every step of the way as the longest shot on the board.


Gio Ponti’s final time for the 1 3/8 miles was 2:16.20 over Belmont Park’s firm Inner Turf course.


“I was a little concerned about the way the race was going to unfold,” said winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, who also guided Gio Ponti to win last year’s edition of the race. “I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of speed, and that there were a lot of horses with similar running styles to mine. As the race unfolded, I was a little concerned about the slow pace, but I was very happy with the way he was traveling. Turning for home, I felt it was a matter of getting a little racing luck. When he split horses, at that point, I felt a little more confident, and that he would get there.”


Christophe Clement, who trains the 5-year-son of Tale of the Cat for Castleton Lyons Farm, was happy to see the horse return to his winning ways after four runner-up finishes and one fourth since August 2009, all but one against Grade 1 company, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic behind undefeated Zenyatta.


“The grass is green, and even greener now!” Clement exclaimed. “I'm delighted with Gio Ponti. Everyone made a big deal of him getting beaten [by stablemate Winchester in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan on June 5], but I never had a doubt that the horse was the leader of his division and I'm delighted with the way he ran today. The race was completely against him; they walked in front, he was last, but he's good enough to be versatile and win the race.”


With the win, Gio Ponti ran his record to 10-6-0 from 20 starts and improved his earnings to $4,123,800. From here, Clement said he would look for either a repeat in the Grade 1 Arlington Million on Saturday, August 21 at Arlington Park or to the Grade 1 Pacific Classic run over the synthetic surface at Del Mar the following weekend.


“Now we can enjoy it a little bit, see how he comes out of it,” Clement said. “His well-being is the main thing. As long as the horse is doing well, we'll be back in one of those two races.”


Expansion was third, Bearpath was fourth and Midnite Silver, Interpatation, Grand Couturier and Strike a Deal completed the order of finish in the Man o'War. 




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