12/23/2008 12:00AM

Gio Ponti ready to run, rain or shine


ARCADIA, Calif. - What at first appears to be a consolation prize may, depending on the weather, turn out to be a grand experiment for Gio Ponti, who heads the field in the Grade 3, $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds on Friday's opening-day program at Santa Anita.

Gio Ponti was the 3-1 favorite in his last start, the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, but he had no room down the stretch and wound up seventh in the nine-horse field.

"He had no luck whatsoever in the Hollywood Derby, like in the Breeders' Cup," trainer Christophe Clement said Monday from Florida.

In the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, Gio Ponti encountered similar traffic troubles.

Gio Ponti looks like a short-priced slam dunk for the Sir Beaufort, assuming it remains on the turf. But if wet weather were to force the race to the main track, Clement said Gio Ponti, who has made all eight of his starts on turf, would give the synthetic Pro-Ride surface a try.

"He's trained very well on the synthetic," Clement said. "He's always trained better on turf than dirt, but lately he's trained very well on the synthetic."

Clement said Gio Ponti has trained well since the Hollywood Derby.

"It seemed unfair to stop on him after such poor luck in the Hollywood Derby," Clement said.

Gio Ponti is one of the most accomplished 3-year-old grass runners in the nation. Earlier this year, he won the Virginia Derby and Hill Prince Stakes and was second in both the Del Mar Derby and Jamaica Handicap.

Gio Ponti drew poorly in the Sir Beaufort, landing post 12 in a field of 13.

His rivals include El Gato Malo, who would make his first start on grass if the race remains on turf. El Gato Malo was fourth in a sprint comeback race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30, his first start since winning the Lone Star Derby more than six months earlier. Earlier this year, he won the San Rafael Stakes on this track and was second in the Sham Stakes.

Fifteen Love, third in the War Chant Stakes at Hollywood Park in his U.S. debut for trainer Bobby Frankel, and La Jolla Handicap winner Sky Cape, freshened by trainer Kristin Mulhall since finishing seventh in the Del Mar Derby, are other top contenders.

Unbeatens to meet in California Breeders'

Feisty Suances has won all three of his starts, and Atticus Jack is 2 for 2, but both will face a stern test in Friday's $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes from Unbridled Roman, who closed furiously to defeat maidens in his lone start Nov. 9 at Hollywood Park. Those three are among a field of 12 2-year-olds entered in the seven-furlong race.

"I thought his race was really impressive," Christopher Paasch, the trainer of Unbridled Roman, said Monday. "I can't wait to run him two turns. I think the farther he goes, the better."

Unbridled Roman won his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs, so he gets an additional 110 yards with which to work Friday. Paasch paid Unbridled Roman the ultimate compliment, comparing him to Stardom Bound, the 2-year-old filly whom Paasch trained to a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies victory two months ago.

"He's got a great big, long stride, like Stardom Bound," Paasch said.

Feisty Suances beat a first-level Cal-bred allowance field in his last start. Atticus Jack won a starter-allowance race after defeating maiden claimers in his debut.

Another top contender is Lordgivemealift, who blitzed an open field of first-level allowance runners by 5 3/4 lengths at Hollywood Park on Nov. 1.

Gomez closing in on season earnings record

A career year for jockey Garrett Gomez could become a record-breaking year if things go his way the final week of 2008. Gomez entered Friday's opening-day card at Santa Anita with earnings of $23,019,419 this season, the highest of his career and nearly $7 million ahead of second-leading money rider Rafael Bejarano. The total will make Gomez the leading money rider for the third straight year and he is within range of the all-time North American record.

Gomez is $335,541 behind the record $23,354,960 set by Jerry Bailey in 2003. Is Gomez close enough?

"Absolutely we're in range," agent Ron Anderson said. "The stakes business is really good."

It starts Friday when Gomez rides Colonel John in the $250,000 Malibu, Gio Ponti in the $100,000 Sir Beaufort, and Beauteous Maximus in the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes. On Saturday, Gomez rides Bsharpsonata in the $250,000 La Brea Stakes and Saucey Evening in the filly division of the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes.

Vacare will be bred to Pivotal in England

Vacare, winner of Sunday's Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap in her final career start, will be sent to England and bred to Pivotal in 2009, co-owner Jon Kelly said in the winner's circle.

Kelly described Vacare's win on Sunday as one the highlights of her career during the time that he owned her, along with a win in the Grade 2 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland in October 2007. Earlier in her career, before she was bought by Kelly for $2.8 million in November 2006, Vacare won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in 2006.

Sunday's victory was not without a touch of suspense for Kelly. He said there were anxious moments when Vacare turned for home with a stubborn Gotta Have Her still to catch.

"We were apprehensive going around the turn," Kelly said. "She's really game."

Vacare, 5, won the Dahlia Handicap by a length over Gotta Have Her.

Vacare won two stakes from six starts this year. In August, she won the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar. During the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in the fall, she finished second in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes and was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Kelly was philosophical about the loss in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

"That class of horse was a little better than this," he said.

Trained by Christophe Clement, Vacare ended her career with 8 wins in 14 starts and earnings of $1,213,706. The victory was the 1,000th of Clement's career.

Wishful Tomcat waits for San Fernando

Wishful Tomcat, a recent purchase by red-hot IEAH Stables, is passing the Sir Beaufort and will make his California debut in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 17, according to Gary Stevens, the former jockey who now works as an adviser to IEAH.

Wishful Tomcat most recently won the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, his third straight win and fifth in his last six starts.

IEAH has had a sensational year, highlighted by victories by Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Court Vision in the Hollywood Derby, and Benny the Bull in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. All told, IEAH partnerships won 11 Grade 1 races this year, easily best among the nation's owners.

"It's been a big year," Stevens said.

Nakatani fined for Saturday ride

Corey Nakatani has been fined $500 by Hollywood Park stewards for failing to ride his mount to the finish in Saturday's third race.

Nakatani was aboard Wheaton Hall, who finished fourth, a length behind race winner Masterly in the six-furlong race for $32,000 claimers. Wheaton Hall fought for the lead and was within a half-length of the front with a furlong remaining. Wheaton Hall was passed by Masterly and Ballistic Heat in the final furlong and finished a neck behind Ballistic Heat, just missing third.

Nakatani, 38, returned from a two-month absence caused by a collarbone injury earlier this month.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Brad Free