Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gio Ponti Much the Best in Arlington Million

By Jason Shandler

Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti notched his fourth consecutive grade I victory Aug. 8 at Arlington Park, as he rolled to a 1 1/4-length win in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) (VIDEO) under Ramon Dominguez.

A 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat , Gio Ponti solidified himself as the top turf horse in the country with his convincing score over a tough field, one that put him over the $2-million mark in career earnings. It was the ninth win in 14 lifetime starts for the bay colt and his seventh graded stakes triumph. He also earned an automatic berth to the Nov. 7 Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita and the Japan Cup (Jpn-I).
Christophe Clement, one of the nation’s best turf trainers for years, collected his first Arlington Million win.
"We were very patient with (Gio Ponti) when he was a 3-year-old and he keeps maturing and is a better 4-year-old,” said Clement. "There are many good races around and he could go in any one of them. Let’s just enjoy today.”
A confirmed closer, Gio Ponti stumbled coming out of the gate but quickly recovered and received a solid pace to run at in the 1 1/4-mile Million, as speedy Presious Passion broke away from the field of eight and posted fractions of :23.88, :48.44 and 1:14.23 under Elvis Trujillo. Gloria de Campeao, Einstein and Mr. Sidney stalked the pace through the backstretch, while Gio Ponti raced mid-pack. Presious Passion, the United Nations (gr. IT) winner last month at Monmouth Park, opened up a 10-length lead after a half-mile.
But the front-runner was tiring badly as they approached the far turn and Mr. Sidney briefly took over from the fading leader. However, it was not long before he was tackled by Gio Ponti, who split horses with his four-wide move and made the front nearing the quarter pole. The classy horse was clear by a length at the top of the lane and had plenty left in the tank to repel a mild bid from English-bred Stotsfold on the inside.
The final time over a turf course labeled ‘good’ was 2:04.19. Just as Well, sent off at 19-1, made a late run under E.T. Baird to get second, a head in front of 28-1 Stotsfold and Adam Kirby.
"(Gio Ponti) is a great horse,” said Dominguez, who like Clement was registering his first win in the Arlington Million. "He just does everything so easy.
"I was a little concerned with the way the turf was playing all day. He stumbled a little bit out of the gate and I thought it would compromise my chances but right away he came back up and was on the bridle, taking me every step of the way. He’s a pleasure to ride."
Gio Ponti’s lone setback in five starts in 2009 came in his season debut when he finished fifth in the Feb. 7 Strub (gr. I) on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface. Since then, he has rolled to grade I turf wins in the Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, and the Manhattan and Man ‘o War handicaps, both at Belmont. He has now earned $2,133,800.
Bred in Kentucky by Shane Ryan’s Kilboy Estate, which is part of Castleton Lyons’ powerful Irish-based operation, Gio Ponti is out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs.
Sent off as the 3-2 favorite, the winner paid $5, $3.40, and $2.60. The exacta (6-3) returned $72.20 and the trifecta (6-3-4) was $889.20.
Cima de Triomphe, one of three European-bred horses in the race, finished fourth, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Einstein, who finished fifth for the second consecutive Million. Seeking his third grade I win of the year, Einstein raced close to the pace in the early going and was in contention on the far turn but had no answer.
Mr. Sidney finished sixth, followed by Gloria de Campeao and Presious Passion.

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