06/04/2008 12:00AM

Gio Ponti seeks better trip in Hill Prince


ELMONT, N.Y. - The traffic headed to Monmouth Park last year for the Breeders' Cup was nothing compared to the traffic jam Gio Ponti encountered in the stretch run of the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Stopped with nowhere to go, he never got a seam until it was too late, finishing eighth of 12 in a race he might have won with a better trip.

Christophe Clement, the trainer of Gio Ponti, is hoping for far better luck Friday, when Gio Ponti returns to action for the first time in seven months in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont Park.

"He just had no racing luck in the Breeders' Cup," Clement said Wednesday morning at Belmont Park. "He has trained well for this. It took a while to get him back, because we struggled during the winter with some soundness issues. But he's a very nice horse."

Gio Ponti won his first two starts last year, including a victory over Nownownow in the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. In the Breeders' Cup, Nownownow swooped the field and got up to win, while Gio Ponti was caught in traffic.

The Hill Prince, at one mile on turf, drew a field of eight, including such well-regarded 3-year-olds as Hatta Fort and Prussian. The wet weather that came through the New York area Wednesday could leave the turf soft for racing Friday. Both Hatta Fort and Prussian have been scratched from races in recent weeks when the rains came, but Clement said Gio Ponti would run on soft ground.

"He got beat at Monmouth not due to soft turf," Clement said. "It was due to no racing luck."

Hatta Fort, who raced last year in Europe, was an unlucky loser of his first start in this country, in the Lafayette Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland in April. He was scheduled to run in the Woodlawn Stakes at Pimlico three weeks ago, but was scratched because of inclement weather. He has never raced beyond seven furlongs.

"I think one mile on grass will be right up his alley," said Rick Mettee, who trains the Godolphin Stable runners as the New York-based assistant to Saeed bin Suroor.

Prussian was scratched from the Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs due to wet weather and also from the Woodlawn two weeks later for the same reason. He was able to get in a race at Monmouth on May 25, in which he finished second by a nose, but the possibility of a soft course here Friday may affect his participation.

Spark Candle, the Japanese horse who is a stablemate of Casino Drive, is also entered in the Hill Prince. He was sixth of nine on dirt in the Peter Pan in his first start in this country on May 10. He defeated maidens on turf in Japan in October.