01/06/2011 11:50AM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Gio Ponti

Adam Coglianese/NYRA

In 2010, Gio Ponti added to an already stellar reputation.

After a 2009 season in which Gio Ponti won two Eclipse Awards – outstanding older male and outstanding turf male – he was campaigned in 2010 through an international seven-race campaign that included two Grade 1 stakes wins, one each at Belmont Park and Keeneland.

He was first or second in six American starts, all stakes.

Owned by Shane Ryan’s Castleton Lyons, bred by Kilboy Estate, and trained by Christophe Clement, Gio Ponti raced as a 5-year-old in 2010, but just as easily could have had no season at all. In 2009, he won four consecutive Grade 1 races and was second to the mighty Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He could have been retired to stud.

Instead, in a sporting gesture, Ryan opted to keep Gio Ponti in training. After considering races at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park in February, Gio Ponti began his season in the Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 20, where he was beaten a nose by Karelian after being carried out in the stretch.

The race was a prep for Gio Ponti’s first major goal of 2010 – the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race, on March 27. Considered the best chance from the United States, Gio Ponti finished fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Gloria de Campeao, in a race run in a slow pace on a Tapeta Footings synthetic surface.

For the rest of the year, Gio Ponti raced on turf. Given time to recover from the trip to the Middle East, Gio Ponti resumed racing in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 5.

Once again, bad luck surfaced. Gio Ponti was steadied on the turn but recovered to finish a half-length behind stablemate Winchester, while giving away six pounds. Clement described Gio Ponti’s performance as “an amazing race.”

A month later, in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park, Gio Ponti recorded his ninth stakes win, and fifth Grade 1, over 1 3/8 miles on turf.

The final three races of the 2010 campaign showed Gio Ponti’s versatility. He was second by a half-length as the favorite to the English import Debussy in the Grade 1 Arlington Million over 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 21, after racing six wide on the turn and leading in deep stretch.

On Oct. 9, Gio Ponti won the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile on turf at Keeneland under a hand ride as a heavy favorite, his first start at a mile since a win in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March 2009.

At that point, his connections faced a decision on the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in early November. After pre-entering him in both the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile and the BC Classic, the Mile was chosen. Clement cited Gio Ponti’s sharpness as a factor.

The plan nearly worked.

Sent off at 4-1 in an 11-horse field, Gio Ponti made his customary bid from the back of the field but was still sixth with a furlong remaining. Under regular rider Ramon Dominguez, Gio Ponti continued an excellent rally but could only finish second to the French star mare Goldikova, who won the race for a record third time.

The margin was 1 3/4 lengths. Include half-length losses in the Manhattan and Arlington Million, and Gio Ponti lost three Grade 1 races by less than three lengths in 2010, a campaign of admirable consistency.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Gio Ponti's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park >>