10/09/2010 5:49PM

Gio Ponti makes it look easy in Shadwell Turf Mile

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Gio Ponti, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, cruises home in the Shadwell Turf Mile.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Gio Ponti flexed the muscles of a multiple Eclipse Award winner Saturday when gliding to victory without even feeling the whip in the richest race of the Keeneland fall meet, the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile.

With Ramon Dominguez aboard, Gio Ponti relaxed off the early pace in the Grade 1 Shadwell before rallying between rivals and finishing a deceptively easy length before Society’s Chairman in a field of six older horses. He returned $3.60 as the favorite.

“There is no doubt in my mind he is the best turf horse in the country,” said Christophe Clement, the New York-based Frenchman who trains Gio Ponti for the Castleton Lyons Farm of Shane Ryan. “He is a remarkable horse.”

Gio Ponti, the champion older horse and turf horse in North America in 2009, appears to be peaking in time for the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, although Clement was not prepared after the Shadwell to commit the 5-year-old horse to the $2 million Mile on turf or the $5 million Classic on dirt.

“It’s a pretty good problem to have,” said Clement. “I’m sure the owner will have an answer for me [Sunday] or the next day.”

Gio Ponti had blown to the lead in his previous race, the Aug. 21 Arlington Million, and perhaps a bit prematurely, as a torrid inside run from Debussy stole the win from him. Saturday, Dominguez appeared careful not to make the lead too soon, and the strategy worked to perfection. Leaving the eighth pole, while boxed between Get Stormy, who had an uncomfortable trip near the rail much of the way, and a rallying Society’s Chairman, Gio Ponti began gaining steadily on the leader, Courageous Cat.

With about 70 yards to go, still under a hand ride, Gio Ponti began showing his superiority as he edged away to prevail.

“I want to give all the credit to my horse and to Christophe,” said Dominguez. “I didn’t really expect him to be that sharp going a mile, and I was so pleased to see him running that close and so handy like this.”

Courageous Cat finished third, another 1 1/4 lengths back, followed by Get Stormy, Enriched, and Acting Zippy.

Gio Ponti, a Kentucky-bred by Tale of the Cat, earned $360,000 with his 11th win from 22 career starts, lifting his career bankroll to $4,677,800.

Many in the ontrack crowd of 22,958 already had departed by the time the 25th Shadwell was run at 5:47 p.m. Eastern, as a glaring, hot sun shone into the Keeneland grandstand just barely above eye level and as kickoff for a University of Kentucky home football game beckoned.

The Shadwell was one of five graded races, including three Grade 1’s, run on a blockbuster 11-race Saturday card. The nine-race FallStars Weekend concludes Sunday with the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster and Grade 3 Bourbon.