02/19/2010 1:00AM

Everything looks good for Gio Ponti


Tampa Bay Downs will roll out the red carpet for a champion on Saturday when dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti comes to town to kick off his 2010 campaign in the $150,000 Tampa Bay Breeders Cup.

Gio Ponti, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner as both older male and male turf horse, has not started since capping off his championship campaign with a second-place finish behind Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Gio Ponti posted four Grade 1 victories last season, including the Arlington Million, and was also second in two other Grade 1 races. He completed the campaign with earnings in excess of $2.3 million.

Trainer Christophe Clement brought Gio Ponti back from the West Coast last month after missing some training time due to both the weather and unsettled track conditions at Santa Anita. Gio Ponti has worked twice since arriving at Payson Park and, according to Clement, couldn't be doing better coming into the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup.

"Everything is good," said Clement, who trains Gio Ponti for owner Castleton Lyons. "He's trained forwardly and I'm excited about having him back running again. I'm using this race as a prep for the Dubai World Cup. He needs to have a good race, come out in good order, train forwardly and, as long as everything goes well, we'll enter in the World Cup."

Clement had two options on Saturday for Gio Ponti's return, including the one mile, Grade 3 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park.

"I chose to come to Tampa because I prefer the distance of a mile and one-sixteenth better than a mile, and I like the turf course," said Clement.

Gio Ponti also gets a major break in the weights under the allowance conditions of the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup, carrying 116 pounds, including regular rider Ramon Dominguez.

Eight horses were entered to face Gio Ponti but it's unlikely all will start. Two of the eight, Mambo Meister and Pickapocket, were cross-entered in the Canadian Turf by trainers Phil Gleaves and Marty Wolfson. Gleaves said he was leaning 98 percent towards the Canadian and would only head to Tampa were Gio Ponti to scratch.

Rahystrada will have the honor of carrying high weight of 122 pounds as well as the misfortune of conceding six pounds to Gio Ponti on Saturday. Rahystrada earns top impost for his 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs in his 2009 finale. The win was one of four on the year for Rahystrada, who was trained by Byron Hughes last season but will be saddled by Ron Potts Jr. on Saturday.

Almoradi, Public Speaker, Dinner in Odem, Karelian, and Quiet Emarati complete the field.