The Christophe Clement-trained 2009 Turf and Older Male Champion, Gio Ponti, has elected to bypass this weekend's Grade 1 $1,000,000 Woodbine Mile at (where else?) Woodbine in favor of running in the Grade 1 $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland to be run on October 9. Clement believes that the fact that Gio Ponti won't be spotting any weight to the field in the Shadwell, as he would have had to do in the Woodbine Mile, is a major benefit.
Certainly, there can be no arguing with Clement's logic. After all, he is only one of the best turf trainers in the world. What become the interesting part of this situation is what happens next. Will Gio Ponti use the Shadwell as a prep race for the Breeders' Cup Mile or the Breeders' Cup Classic? Gio Ponti is one of the top turf horses going right now, but keep in mind that he has actually only won one time in 2010. The rest of his campaign is dotted with near-misses and could-have-beens. That includes his last effort in the Grade 1 Arlington Million, where he was passed in the final strides by Debussy's rail-skimming rally. Even the win was mostly unimpressive, as he appeared to struggle to get past front-running longshot, Mission Envisioned, in the Grade 1 Man O'War at Belmont Park.
The final consideration is the competition he will face in either Breeders' Cup race. If he opts for the Mile, you must consider that Gio Ponti is 2 for 2 at the mile distance on the turf and he will likely be facing two-time defending Mile Champion, the brilliant Goldikova. If he elects to run in the Classic, (where he did run second last year to Zenyatta's eye-catching stretch run) he will likely face a rematch with Zenyatta, not to mention running against the likes of Quality Road, Blame, Rail Trip, and other top-flight Classic division horses in what should prove to be a great race. Also, Gio Ponti has never run a race on dirt before. The 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic was run over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita, while the 2010 Classic will take place over the dir track at Churchill Downs.
It almost looks like Clement will be damned if he does or damned if he doesn't no matter what road he elects to follow. It is my thought that he will take on Goldikova in the Mile. I think the competition will be softer in the Mile, given that other than her, there really isn't a standout horse in that division on either side of the Atlantic plus you get to keep him on the grass surface instead of running him on an unfamiliar track that other great horses have had issues with in the past (see Skip Away).
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!