07/07/2011 3:25PM

Belmont Park: Gio Ponti seeks Man o' War three-peat


ELMONT, N.Y. – Gio Ponti enters this year’s Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes – to be run Saturday at Belmont Park – much the same way he came into last year’s Man o’ War. His connections hope he comes out of it the same way too – that is, with a victory.

Actually, Gio Ponti will seek his third consecutive triumph in the $600,000 Man o’ War when he takes on familiar foe Mission Approved and five others in the 1 3/8-mile race scheduled for the inner turf course. Gio Ponti is seeking to become the first horse on this circuit to win any Grade 1 turf race for three consecutive years.

MAN O' WAR: Video preview and past performances »

Last year, Gio Ponti came into the Man o’ War off a loss as the favorite in the Manhattan Stakes. He finished second, beaten one-half length by stablemate Winchester. Last month, Gio Ponti finished third in the Manhattan, 1 1/4 lengths behind loose-on-the-lead longshot winner Mission Approved in a race run over yielding turf. Disappointed at the time, Christophe Clement, the trainer of Gio Ponti, is undeterred coming into the Man o’ War.

“I still think that even though he got beat in the Manhattan the horse ran a very good race,” Clement said Thursday. “The course condition killed me.”

Clement is hoping for firm ground Saturday and is likely to get it even in spite of thunderstorms that could hit the area Friday. In the Manhattan, there were steady showers all day that impacted the turf. This week, hot temperatures have baked the course, and even a thunderstorm or two will unlikely soften it up.

“There’s no doubt that even if he can perform on any surface I think he will have a better turn of foot on firmer ground than softer ground,” Clement said.

Gio Ponti gets a 10-pound weight shift from Mission Approved in the Man o’ War. In the Manhattan, Gio Ponti spotted Mission Approved seven pounds, while on Saturday, Mission Approved concedes three pounds to Gio Ponti.

Also, European shipper Cape Blanco may have enough speed to not let Mission Approved waltz alone on the lead like he was able to do in the Manhattan.

In last year’s Man o’ War, Mission Approved for every step but the last one, when Gio Ponti got his head down on the wire first. After not racing for 11 months because of physical issues, Mission Approved came back to lead every step in the Manhattan under Jose Espinoza. Trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul said he has gone relatively easy on Mission Approved in the four weeks since that race.

“The whole idea is not to kill him here in the morning,” Chatterpaul said. “You see I worked him once within that four week span just to keep him happy. He came off an 11-month layoff and ran a big race, you don’t want to train too much out of him, you just want to keep him fresh and run.”

Cape Blanco, a multiple Group 1 winner I in Ireland, set the pace in the Queen Anne Stakes going a mile at Royal Ascot last month before fading to sixth. He stretches out in distance, and trainer Aidan O’Brien will put the 4-year-old on Lasix for his North American debut.

“He shipped in well. We couldn’t be any happier with him,” said Pat Keating, who arrived at Aqueduct from Ireland with Cape Blanco on Wednesday. “Hopefully, with a little bit of luck he’ll go well on Saturday.”

Boisterous has won three of his last four starts and could loom a threat in his graded stakes debut. Al Khali would appreciate firm turf. Bearpath and Nownownow complete lineup.