08/31/2016 1:14PM

Gio Ponti moving up the sire standings as his runners mature

Barbara D. Livingston
Drefong gave Gio Ponti his first Grade 1 win as a sire in Saturday's King Bishop.

Gio Ponti, three-time Eclipse Award winner, got off to a slow start as a sire when his first foals reached the racetrack last year. He failed to get a stakes winner and had just eight winners from 46 starters and progeny earnings of $452,601. As could be expected for a horse who himself got better with age and distance, Gio Ponti’s progeny are performing far better as 3-year-olds – and he has a chance for two of his runners to be champions by year-end.

Last year, you had to go down the freshman sire list to 17th to find Gio Ponti, but today the son of Tale of the Cat is moving fast up the earnings ladder and is now fifth on the list of second-crop sires, with progeny earnings of $1,852,064. The incomparable Uncle Mo is the leading second-crop sire with progeny earnings of $9.6 million, with Twirling Candy second with $2.3 million.

Earlier this summer, Sir Dudley Digges became Gio Ponti’s first stakes winner when he captured the Canadian classic Queen’s Plate.

On August 27 at Saratoga, Gio Ponti was represented by his first Grade 1 winner when the 3-year-old colt Drefong won the seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths as much the best in the 12-horse field of sophomores. Gio Ponti, who stands for $12,500 at Shane Ryan’s Castleton Lyons in Lexington, Ky., now has three stakes winners, also represented by the 3-year-old filly Planchart, who won a stakes in Ireland this year.

Sir Dudley Digges, Gio Ponti’s leading earner with $623,429, was second in the Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine on August 21, the last leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Like his sire, Sir Dudley Digges has proved a versatile runner, winning on turf and synthetic. At this point, Sir Dudley Digges has the inside track for a Sovereign Award as champion 3-year-old male in Canada.

Another horse coming on fast this year, literally and figuratively, is Drefong. The colt lost his debut last October at Santa Anita as the favorite, and since then has reeled off four straight wins by a combined 21 1/2 lengths while running paired Beyer Speed Figures of 103 in his last two starts. He shows high speed from the start of his races, running on the lead, and improves his position from there. Only in his debut did he fail to make the lead.

Trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Charles Chu, Drefong will be pointed for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on November 5 with the goal being a championship.

Drefong was thought of highly from the first time he appeared in a public setting, selling for $200,000 as a weanling at the 2013 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, being purchased by Woods Edge Farm, which is operated by Peter O’Callaghan.

Bred in Kentucky by Frederick M. Allor, Michael T. Barnett, and Anthony M. War, Drefong was the highest-priced weanling sold in Gio Ponti’s first crop, and O’Callaghan’s big gamble paid off when he was pinhooked for $450,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, purchased by Tanma Corp. That was the second-highest price attained for a Gio Ponti yearling in 2014, behind the $500,000 paid for the filly Year of Promise at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August selected sale. Year of Promise is unplaced in six starts in France this year.

Drefong, out of the Ghostzapper mare Eltimaas, is one of three foals and two starters for his dam. Unraced Eltimaas is a half-sister to 2003 champion 2-year-old male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Action This Day, who stood in Kentucky being before sold in 2013 to Peru interests for stud duty. Eltimaas’s dam, Najecam, was a graded stakes-placed earner of $175,243, finishing in the money in three graded races, including the Grade 2 Princess Stakes. It’s the family of champion juvenile filly Bitty Girl, by Habitat, dam of stakes winners Beaudelaire and Memento and ancestress of stakes winners Parade Queen, Untouched Talent, and others.

Bred and raced by Shane Ryan, Gio Ponti, by Tale of the Cat out of Chipeta Springs, by Alydar, blossomed into a top runner at ages 4 and 5, when he was champion older male and champion turf male of 2009 and champion turf male of 2010. A sound and versatile runner, he raced 29 times, winning 12 times and running second 10 times, and earned $6,169,800. He won seven Grade 1 races, including the Arlington Million, the Man o’ War twice, and the Shadwell Turf Mile twice.

Gio Ponti has 86 2-year-olds in his second crop, with three winners to date, and has 110 yearlings in his third crop.