09/29/2009 11:00PM

Gio Ponti fresh for long run

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Four-Footed Fotos
Gio Ponti winning the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million on Aug. 9 in suburban Chicago.

The admirable Gio Ponti has proved himself the most versatile American turf performer in a number of years, winning four Grade 1's this year between a mile and 1 3/8 miles in New York, Illinois, and California on yielding, good, and firm ground. Freshened since his victory in the Arlington Million on Aug. 9, he is being aimed at the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for his first try at 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park on Oct. 3 as a prelude to the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The step up in distance for Gio Ponti, a 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat, holds no terrors for his trainer, Christophe Clement.

"He's so good I don't know what his best distance is," the voluble Frenchman said. "The plan was always to give him a small break after the Million. He's a fresh horse, doing very well. We'll make a decision about the Breeders' Cup after the Turf Classic."

Clement has floated the possibility Gio Ponti might run in the Classic.

Noting that Gio Ponti has already defeated two of his main American rivals in the Turf, Just as Well and Marsh Side, the first two finishers in Woodbine's Northern Dancer Stakes, the Frenchman ponders.

"That's good form," he said, "but is it better than European form? I don't know."

Gio Ponti is likely to be the Great American Hope in this year's Turf, as strong challenges from defending title-holder Conduit and Fame and Glory are expected to emerge from Saturday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Michael Stoute has been pointing Conduit to the Turf since he crossed the line in last year's running. Kept to an inadequate 1 1/4 miles in his first two starts this year, Conduit displayed his best form winning Ascot's 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. A Dalakhani 4-year-old, he will be facing a tough task in the Arc, going against Sea the Stars off a 71-day absence, but that should set him up perfectly for the Turf.

In Irish Derby winner Fame and Glory, Aidan O'Brien has himself a 12-furlong horse in much the same league as two-time Turf winner High Chaparral. Unfortunately, he came along in the same year as Sea the Stars, to whom he was second over an inadequate 1 1/4 miles in the Irish Champion Stakes following a 10-week layoff. With that effort under his belt, Fame and Glory, a Montjeu 3-year-old, may give Sea the Stars a tougher time in the Arc, especially if the ground is soft.

Two Turf possibles from France who will run in the Arc deserve consideration at this time. French Oaks winner Stacelita, part-owned by American Martin Schwartz, remained undefeated when she was awarded the Prix Vermeille after the highly controversial disqualification of Dar Re Mi. Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Vision d'Etat wasn't asked for nearly 100 percent when he ran second in the Prix Niel. The Arc has been always been his long-term goal.

Midships will be the hometown favorite in the Turf. He has won his last two turf starts at Santa Anita at the Grade 2 level and is expected to return in the Clement Hirsch on Oct. 11. As for Sea the Stars, if he does show up in the Cup entries, it is more likely to be in the Classic.