11/30/2008 12:00AM

Gio Ponti, Court Vision clash again


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - They began their careers the same day, though not even in the same state. Yet, by now, it seems that Court Vision and Gio Ponti were destined to meet one another. Both from top barns, both with a preference for turf, they have become budding rivals.

Round 1, the Virginia Derby, went to Gio Ponti. Court Vision won Round 2, the Jamaica Handicap. Round 3 is Sunday, when they head a field of nine in the Grade 1, $500,000 Hollywood Derby, the last of the six graded stakes races to be run during Hollywood Park's sensational turf festival.

The Hollywood Derby, at 1 1/4 miles, also drew turf specialist Cowboy Cal, Colonial Turf Cup winner Sailor's Cap, the first three finishers - Muny, Madeo, and Dixie Chatter - from the Oak Tree Derby, and European invaders Albahri and Midships.

Court Vision, trained by Bill Mott, made his debut Sept. 7, 2007 at Turfway Park. After flirting with the Triple Crown earlier this year, Mott switched Court Vision to turf for three of his last four starts. After failing to adequately handle a soft course in the Colonial Turf Cup, Court Vision was an unlucky loser in the Virginia Derby, then avenged that loss in the Jamaica.

"His grass races have been huge," Mott said Friday morning from New York. "He finishes. In his dirt races, he'd get right there, but he wouldn't finish at all."

Gio Ponti sealed his career in his debut Sept. 7, 2007 at Belmont Park, when he won a grass race against maidens. He has remained on turf since. Gio Ponti benefitted from a superior trip to beat Court Vision in the Virginia Derby, then was outfinished by Court Vision in the Jamaica.

"Court Vision outgamed the other horse," Mott said. "Gio Ponti had room inside, and got up on even terms, but we outran him to the wire."

Gio Ponti, trained by Christophe Clement, was sent west following the Jamaica and has worked twice in California, whereas Court Vision just arrived this week.

Muny figures to try and lead from gate to wire, as he did in the Oak Tree Derby. This race, though, is a furlong farther than the Oak Tree Derby. Muny also figures to have both Cowboy Cal and Dixie Chatter in close attendance to the early pace.

Cowboy Cal has won 4 of 5 starts on turf, and comes into the race fresh, having made just one start since the Kentucky Derby. This will be his first start in California.

"He looks much better than he did in May," Michael McCarthy, the California-based assistant to Cowboy Cal's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said Friday. "He's filled out."

Sailor's Cap was hampered by a slow pace and wide trip when third to Gio Ponti and Court Vision in the Virginia Derby. He has raced just once since then, finishing third in an overnight stakes race at Belmont Park where the distance and pace did not suit him.

"He lost some time after the race in Virginia," said Jimmy Toner, who trains Sailor's Cap. "I wanted to freshen him, but he came up with some foot issues and I had to give him more time. I had to get a race into him last time to make the Hollywood Derby. He wasn't at 100 percent in terms of his form. He needed the race."