10/01/2008 11:00PM

Gio Ponti over Court Vision in rematch


ELMONT, N.Y. - Saturday is one of just two dates left in the New York season that offers three graded stakes, and the last until the Cigar Mile-Remsen-Demoiselle tripleheader on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.

The Jamaica Handicap, the last graded turf stakes exclusively for 3-year-olds, starts things off as race 6, a position that puts it in between the early and late pick fours, and thus makes it an intermission race for bettors who allocate most of their play to those pools.

Based on their head-bob finish in an enervating stretch drive in the Virginia Derby, Gio Ponti figures to be a slight favorite over Court Vision, with Wesley, Thou Swell, and the up-and-coming Roman Tiger clustered in a close call for third choice.

Gio Ponti has something of an edge over Court Vision with two wins locally, but his debut win and the Hill Prince were both on the Widener course and the Jamaica is on the inner course.

Court Vision, meanwhile, had run only once on turf prior to their first meeting, and it was in a driving rainstorm in the Colonial Turf Cup.

It's a close call between the two, but Gio Ponti had legitimate trouble in his only two losses, while Court Vision hasn't won in over 10 months since winning a slow edition of the Remsen, which has developed into a negative key race.

The more interesting races are the Frizette and Champagne, a pair of $400,000 Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds, each carrying Win and You're In status for the Breeders' Cup in three weeks. Each drew a field of 10.

The Frizette is effectively a first-level allowance. Of the field's seven collective starts in stakes, only Persistently (second in the Matron) and Collegiate (third in the Spinaway) have in-the-money finishes. Of course, none of them has had more than three starts, so there is still much to learn about them.

The pace projects to be hotly contested, since half the field led wire to wire in their maiden victories, including Gemswick Park and Collegiate, who share the top Beyer Speed Figure of 91, which is right on the Frizette par of 90 from 1991-2007.

The matchup favors a closer, and Persistently fits that description well, having been dead last through the early going of all three career starts but improving with each.

A Phipps Stable homebred, she certainly has a terrific pedigree for this race. Her second dam is Heavenly Prize, who gained the first of her eight Grade 1 wins with a seven-length score in the 1993 Frizette.

Sky Diva and Royal Ballade didn't bust any stopwatches when they were unveiled in September, but both won laughing and have a license to be good enough to win.

Sky Diva is by Sky Mesa, whose 3-for-3 campaign as a juvenile included win in the Hopeful and Breeders' Futurity.

Royal Ballade's six-furlong time on Sept. 14 was a good deal slower than what stablemate Gemswick Park put up three races later, but there may be much more in store. Her dam, the the Grade 1-winning Musical Chimes, is a half-sister to Music Note, winner of the Mother Goose, CCA Oaks, and Gazelle at Belmont this year.

Champagne: Pass on Hopeful cast

With the exception of Vineyard Haven, the rest of the Champagne field is also eligible for preliminary allowance conditions.

While Vineyard Haven shook loose on the lead to win the Hopeful at 9-1, Cribnote (bore out badly), Munnings (lunged and stumbled at the start), and Break Water Edison (bumped hard at the start) had significant trouble before winding up second, third, and fourth.

To be sure, all three had trouble, especially Cribnote and Munnings, and it might be easier to give Munnings another chance had he not also had trouble at the gate first out.

The bigger picture, however, is that the Hopeful came up a notably slow race. The winning figure was 84, making it the lowest-rated renewal since Beyers for the race became available in 1990.

For pick-four purposes, I'm going to give preference to four non-Hopeful runners - Brave Victory, Gone Astray, Hello Broadway, and Ventana.

Brave Victory should be a square price and owns the two fastest figures. What's more, his trainer, Nick Zito, has won 5 of the last 10 Champagnes.

Gone Astray has a good-figure maiden win sandwiched in between two lesser numbers on wet tracks - which is surprising, given that his second dam is Inside Information, who Beyered 119 winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff in the slop.

Hello Broadway was a come-again winner of a fast-paced sprint first out. His half-brother Nobiz Like Shobiz was also a debut maiden winner as a 2-year-old in 2006, and also went right into the Champagne, where he ran a close second at 7-5.

Ventana tracked a fast pace and drew off impressively first out at six furlongs. He is a half-brother to Miss Challenge, a 3-year-old filly who is 3 for 3 at a mile on turf this season.