Racing & Wagering

Gio Ponti Shuns Turf for Classic Attempt

| Churchill Downs Communications | 11/04/2009 #

Arlington Million winners have captured the Breeders' Cup Mile (Steinlen) and Breeders' Cup Turf (Manila) but no Million hero has ever won the Breeders' Cup Classic.  Gio Ponti will attempt to become the first Saturday ar Santa Anita Park.

Even though the Million victory gave the  son of Tale of the Cat an automatic starting spot in the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf, his connections opted instead to gun for the 1 1/4-mile $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic over Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

The Christophe Clement trainee has arrived in California and is ready for Saturday's test.

Gio Ponti went to the track Wednesday morning to gallop 7f under Christophe Lorieul, the assistant to trainer Christophe Clement.

"He shipped well and is in tip-top physical shape," said Lorieul. "Shipping was a problem with him when he was younger and he would get nervous, but now that he is a 4-year-old, he handles the travel much better. His coat, his weight, and all else looks very good since he's arrived."

The son of Tale of the Cat, widely regarded as one of the top turf horses in North America during his 2009 campaign, had no problem with the synthetic surface of the main track this morning even though his regular exercise rider, Jerry Fogarty, did not make the trip with him.

"I got on fine with him today," said Lorieul. "He handled this surface very well."

Gio Ponti, who drew post 7 in the 13-horse field and is a 12-1 morning line choice, competed at Santa Anita twice before and won the Sir Beaufort on Dec. 26, 2008 when the race was taken off the turf and moved to the main track.

He has won four of his last five races and finished a solid second in the other. All were Grade I events, but all were on the grass and at different distances ranging from 1m to 1 3/8m.

"The distance and the synthetic here at Santa Anita were why we chose the Classic instead of the Turf," Lorieul said. "He's won here before and the mile-and-a-quarter is probably his best distance of all."

Clement is scheduled to arrive from New York Thursday to supervise final preparations.