Turf ace Gio Ponti aims for Classic
ELMONT, N.Y. - Though Gio Ponti fell short of winning his fifth consecutive Grade 1 turf race on Saturday, trainer Christophe Clement said he feels his horse has nothing left to prove on the grass. Thus, Clement and owner Shane Thomas Ryan will give Gio Ponti a new challenge by taking on some of the best horses in the world in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.
Clement hopes that Gio Ponti's wins in the Frank Kilroe at Santa Anita, Manhattan, and Man o' War at Belmont, and Arlington Million in Chicago are enough to offset his loss to 43-1 shot Interpatation in last Saturday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic to earn the 4-year-old an Eclipse Award as North America's top male turf horse. The Joe Hirsch was run over an extremely soft turf course after the skies opened up Saturday afternoon.
Since turf horses seem to transition well to synthetic surfaces - Gio Ponti already won the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort over the Pro-Ride last December - Clement feels this is the perfect year to try the Classic.
"One, he came out of his race in good order,'' Clement said Monday. "Two, we believe he does not have that much to prove anymore as the leading turf horse in America. Three, the Classic is an exciting challenge; it should be a very good race. It's a mile and a quarter, but I believe he's got as good a shot as anybody else in the race. Let's go for it.''
The first two finishers from last year's Classic were Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator, two turf horses from Europe. North America's top dirt horse, Curlin, could do no better than fourth. This year, North America's top dirt horse entering the Classic might very well be Summer Bird, the 3-year-old who added Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup to victories in the Travers and Belmont Stakes earlier in the year. Summer Bird has never raced over the Pro-Ride, though he did breeze over it for two months late last year.
"It might be a tougher challenge for him than it is for Gio Ponti,'' Clement said. "Gio Ponti has won a graded stakes on Santa Anta's artificial surface, and I really think a mile and a quarter is an ideal distance for him. He's doing great, he had a break, he's a fresh horse.''
Clement said that, weather permitting, Gio Ponti would do the majority of his training at Belmont before shipping to Santa Anita the week of the Breeders' Cup.
Summer Bird to ship next Monday
Summer Bird came out of his victory in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup in much better shape than his trainer.
Tim Ice caught a nasty cold on Saturday and had to skip his usual barn detail on Monday morning, though he did return for feed time.
Ice said Summer Bird "looked super'' on Sunday and that plans call for him to ship to Southern California on Monday. The horse will work the subsequent three Saturdays to get ready for the Classic. Before coming to Ice, Summer Bird was in the barn of John Sadler, where he breezed nine times over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride from Nov. 6 to Dec. 30, 2008.
"We'll get him out there, get him over the track and have three works before the Breeders' Cup,'' Ice said. "We'll let him tell us whether he likes it or not. Each track I shipped him to he's gotten over it. Some tracks, it's taken a few days like when we first shipped to Belmont [in the spring]. I think it's not going to be an issue, I'm going out there with an open mind, not thinking anything negative about the racetrack.''
Quality Road possible for Classic, Dirt Mile
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Quality Road, second to Summer Bird in the Gold Cup, would be pointed to a Breeders' Cup race, though which one has yet to be determined. Pletcher said the Classic and the Dirt Mile are the two most logical spots.
Pletcher said he needed to talk to owner Ed Evans to "see exactly which race we're going to be in, but the horse came out of the race well and right now the plan would be to go to the Breeders' Cup.''
Pletcher said he felt Quality Road handled the 1 1/4 miles of the Gold Cup Cup "very well, and we don't think that's an issue, but we'll think it all through."
Pletcher said Munnings, third in the Vosburgh, would be pointed to the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 28.
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