06/05/2009 11:00PM

Gio Ponti flies late in Manhattan


ELMONT, N.Y. - Short or long, firm or soft, it doesn't seem to matter to Gio Ponti. His explosive kick is effective at any distance on any footing.

Two months after exploding through the firm Santa Anita stretch to win the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Handicap at one mile, Gio Ponti used a similar late kick under Garrett Gomez to propel himself to a 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap at 1 1/4 miles.

Marsh Side, who made a brief lead in deep stretch, finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the ageless wonder Better Talk Now, the 10-year-old who won this race in 2007.

The Manhattan was run over a yielding inner turf course, a surface Gio Ponti's trainer, Christophe Clement, had some reservations about. But jockey Ramon Dominguez told Clement this week that Gio Ponti should have won the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf over soft Monmouth turf. Though he finished eighth that day, it was due more to the trip he had than the ground he raced on, Dominguez told him.

"If he handled soft then, maybe he'd handle soft today," Clement said. "He's a very good horse."

Gomez said Gio Ponti threw his head at the break, which accounted for him being so far back early in the race. He remained in the back of the pack while Optimer, a rabbit for entrymate Court Vision, sparred on the lead with Cowboy Cal through a half-mile in 49.08 seconds with a pumped Zambezi Sun in close contention.

Gomez decided to follow Court Vision, ridden by Dominguez, around the turn, and approaching the top of the stretch he opted to go a few paths wider than that opponent. Meanwhile, Marsh Side had first run on the leaders and struck the front inside the sixteenth pole.

However, Gio Ponti's kick was stronger and he swept past Marsh Side in the final 50 yards to gain the victory. Gio Ponti, a son of Tale of the Cat owned by Castleton Lyons Farm, was timed in 2:02.91 and returned $9.20.

"I was a little further back than I needed to be," Gomez said. "Court Vision was right in front of me. I followed Ramon and he kicked on just a little bit and I squeezed [Gio Ponti] a little bit in the middle of the turn and I looked up and they were starting to stagger, so I just sat there for a second. When I uncovered him, he put in a nice run."

Javier Castellano, aboard Marsh Side, thought he was the winner in midstretch.

"I thought I had it one moment, but when he went by he flew in the air," Castellano said. "He beat us pretty good today; maybe next time."