07/09/2010 11:00PM

Gio Ponti back in the win column

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Gio Ponti outfinishes longshot Mission Approved to win Saturday's Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The champion is back.

Gio Ponti, the dual Eclipse Award winner last year as the top older male and the leading grass horse, scored his first win of 2010 on Saturday in the Grade 1, $600,000 at Belmont Park.

The trailer for most of the 1 3/8-mile race on the firm turf course, Gio Ponti surged in deep stretch to nail Mission Approved, the longest price in the race at 53-1, by a neck.

The victory ended a five-race losing streak dating back to his triumph in last year s Arlington Million that capped a string of four consecutive Grade 1 victories.

He was second four times in the losing streak, including a one-length loss to Zenyatta in the Breeders Cup Classic.

In his prior race, his first since finishing fourth in Dubai World Cup, Gio Ponti had traffic issues while finishing second to stablemate Winchester in the Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

All was forgotten for trainer Christophe Clement with this win.

"The grass is green, and even greener now, Clement said. I'm delighted with Gio Ponti. Everyone made a big deal of him getting beaten the last time, but I never had a doubt that the horse was the leader of his division and I'm delighted with the way he ran today. The race was completely against him. They walked in front, he was last, but he's good enough to be versatile and win the race.

Clement is now looking at the Arlington Million or the Pacific Classic for Gio Ponti s next race.

A 5-year-old, Gio Ponti, the 2-5 favorite, improved to 10 for 20 and lifted his career earnings to $4,123,800.

Mission Approved grabbed the lead right from the break and backed the pace down to trotting-horse fractions of 26.13, 52.27 and 1:18.07.

Gio Ponti, meanwhile was loping along comfortably at the back to the eight-horse pack. Ramon Dominguez asked him to pick it up on the final turn and Gio Ponti responded instantly. He quickly picked off rivals and came roaring home once a brief traffic jam cleared in upper stretch.

His target was Mission Approved, still stunningly clinging to the lead. Claimed for $35,000 from his last start by trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul, the New York-bred Mission Approved proved to be best of the rest.

Expansion finished third, followed by Bearpath, Midnite Silver, Interpatation, Grand Couturier, and Strike a Deal.

The time was 2:16.20 nad Gio Ponti paid $2.80.

It was a second straight Man o War victory for Gio Ponti, making him the fourth repeat winner along with With Anticipation (2001-02), Solar Splendor (1991-92) and Majesty's Prince (1983-84). Gio Ponti is now 5-3-0 in eight turf races at Belmont.