03/26/2010 11:00PM

Gio Ponti needs best in tough World Cup

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The closer Gio Ponti gets to the World Cup, the brighter he has become, according to his trainer, Christophe Clement.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - After Gio Ponti, the winner of two Eclipse Awards in 2009, flew from Florida to Dubai last week for Saturday's $10 million Dubai World Cup, the 5-year-old was dragging for a few days, suffering from a case of equine jet lag.

But the closer Gio Ponti gets to the World Cup, the brighter he has become, according to his trainer, Christophe Clement.

"It took him a few more days to recover than expected," Clement said on Thursday. "I think he's back to where he should be."

Gio Ponti, the American turf male and older male champion, will have to be at his best on Saturday evening at Meydan Racecourse to beat 13 rivals in a strong World Cup, the world's richest race.

This will be the 15th running of the World Cup and the first at Meydan as well as the first on a synthetic surface. Meydan, the massive racetrack that opened in January, has a Tapeta synthetic course. The World Cup is run over about 1 1/4 miles, or 2,000 meters. The race was previously run at Nad Al Sheba.

The Dubai World Cup is the last of eight races on a program worth a combined $26.25 million. Post time for the World Cup is 1:45 p.m. Eastern, 9:45 p.m. in Dubai.

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There are nine American-based runners on the card, including three in the World Cup. In addition to Gio Ponti, they are Richard's Kid, the winner of the Pacific Classic last September and San Antonio Handicap last month; and Furthest Land, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last November. American-based runners have won eight runnings, including five of the last six and the last three.

Judging from recent performances, Gio Ponti and Richard's Kid are the best hopes for the U.S. A win from Furthest Land would be more of a surprise.

Owned by Castleton Lyons, Gio Ponti won four consecutive Grade 1 races on turf last year. He was second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last November and second by a nose in the Tampa Bay Stakes on turf in his comeback race on Feb. 20. He unseated jockey Ramon Dominguez before that race, which led to schooling sessions in Dubai this week.

"He schooled in the paddock and he schooled okay, and he schooled in the gate and he schooled okay," Clement said.

Richard's Kid was purchased earlier this year by Sheikh Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai. In his only start of 2010, Richard's Kid rallied from last in a field of 11 to win the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 7. Last year, Richard's Kid won the Pacific Classic over 1 1/4 miles on a Polytrack synthetic surface at Del Mar and was sixth in the BC Classic for trainer Bob Baffert.

"The racetrack should suit the horse," said Baffert's assistant, Jimmy Barnes. "He ran on a track similar to this at Del Mar."

Furthest Land was a narrowly beaten fifth in the San Antonio. Owner Kenneth Ramsey was encouraged by the race, and said he thinks the Dubai World Cup conditions will be ideal for the 5-year-old Furthest Land, who is trained by Michael Maker.

"We only got beat three-quarters of a length," Ramsey said. "I have to think a mile and a quarter will suit him fine."

The European-based challengers for the Dubai World Cup are an outstanding group, featuring Twice Over, who was third in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic; Vision d'Etat, the winner of three Group 1 races in the last year; Crowded House, a Group 1 winner in 2008; and Gitano Hernando, who won the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita last year and a stakes in England last month.

Shiekh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing starts Mastery and Allybar, who are outsiders. The 4-year-old filly Red Desire, a stakes winner here and in Japan, is the lone female in the field and is well respected.

Vision d'Etat will make his first start on a synthetic track. Unraced since winning the $2.5 million Hong Kong Cup in December, Vision d'Etat will race as a stalker, trainer Eric Libaud said.

"You let him go at his own rhythm and if you let him do that, he can finish," Libaud said.

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The World Cup will be Twice Over's first start since the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, and the layoff is not a concern to English trainer Henry Cecil.

"I think he's probably improved since then," Cecil said. "He's not coming here for fun."