ELMONT, N.Y. -- The return of dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan and a near-capacity field of 13 in the Grade 1 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies highlight Saturday's Belmont Stakes undercard at Belmont Park.
Gio Ponti seeks a repeat victory in the Manhattan, one of four Grade 1 races he won last year en route to earning championship honors in the turf and older male divisions. Gio Ponti, who finished second to Zenyatta in last November's Breeders' Cup Classic, finished second in the Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 20 and fourth in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 27.
Though Gio Ponti missed a workout two weeks ago, he came back with a sharp five-furlong drill Sunday that gave trainer Christophe Clement some encouragement Gio Ponti could run a winning race Saturday.
Gio Ponti drew the rail and will carry top weight of 122 pounds under Ramon Dominguez. He will face six other Grade 1 winners, including stablemate Winchester, Take the Points, Grand Couturier, Court Vision, Just as Well, and Interpatation.
Clement is likely to run Winchester only if rains come and soften up a very firm turf course.
Like Gio Ponti, Take the Points is making his first start since a trip to Dubai, where he finished fifth in the Dubai Duty Free. He won the Grade 1 Jamaica over this course at 1 1/8 miles as a 3-year-old.
Strike a Deal and Just as Well, the one-two finishers from the Dixie three weeks ago at Pimlico, are also contenders in this field.
One race before the Manhattan, a field of 13 3-year-old fillies will go one mile in the Acorn. Buckleupbuttercup, who is 3 for 3 on dirt, including a 6 1/2-length win in the Eight Belles, could rate a slight favorite in a wide-open field. She will break from post 9 under Jose Lezcano.
Five horses from the Kentucky Oaks -- Tidal Pool (3rd), Amen Hallelujah (6th), Crisp (7th), Quiet Temper (8th), and Champagne d'Oro (11th) -- are in this field, as are Streaker (3 for 3) and Much Rejoicing (2 for 2). Tanda makes her dirt debut from post 2 under Alex Solis. She has won her last three starts, including two graded stakes in Southern California.
Eddie Kenneally, who trains Buckleupbuttercup, will also have one of the choices in the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Handicap in Custom for Carlos, who is 5 for 7, including three wins in his last four stakes tries. A field of 10 was entered in the True North, which kicks off a pick-four wager that has a guaranteed $1 million pool.
Custom for Carlos's competition includes 2009 Metropolitan Handicap winner Bribon, stakes winners Elusive Warning and Fantasy Free, and recent allowance winner Checklist.
Proviso, who beat the boys in the Grade 1 Kilroe at Santa Anita on March 6, heads a field of six fillies and mares entered in the Grade 1 Just a Game at one mile.
Completing the field are Phola, a winner of three straight; Fantasia, fourth to Phola in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile; the Marty Wolfson-trained entry of Speak Easy Gal and Cherokee Queen; and My Princess Jess.
The stakes action kicks off with the Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds featuring multiple graded stakes winner D' Funnybone against the Eightyfiveinafifty, the quirky colt who drew the rail.
The all stakes pick six will have a guaranteed pool of $1 million.