07/19/2008 12:00AM

Gio Ponti wins Va. Derby stretch duel


NEW KENT, Va. - As the field went around the final turn of the Grade 2, $750,000 Virginia Derby on Saturday at Colonial Downs, Gio Ponti was caught three wide, but it was exactly where jockey Garrett Gomez wanted to be. A slow pace left the field bunched, and Gomez and Gio Ponti were in the clear, with Court Vision trapped inside them and behind the leaders.

That position proved crucial a quarter-mile later. Gio Ponti just did outnod an unlucky Court Vision to win the 1 1/4-mile grass race for the richest win of his brief career.

Gio Ponti was best by a nose, with Court Vision 2 1/4 lengths in front of third-place Sailor's Cap, the 6-5 favorite. Gio Ponti ($5.20), the second choice in the field of seven, won for the fourth time in five lifetime starts. His lone loss came in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, when his stretch run was compromised by traffic.

Gio Ponti completed 1 1/4 miles on firm turf on a warm, steamy afternoon in 2:02.22, following early fractions, set by Old Man Buck and Baltimore Bob, of 24.78 seconds, 49.15, 1:13.91, and 1:38.18.

The field, originally at nine, was reduced by the scratches of El Sultry Sun and Budge Man. John Kimmel, the trainer of El Sultry Sun, said his colt tweaked a shoe earlier in the week. The injury is minor, and Kimmel said El Sultry Sun could race as soon as next month's National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.

Gomez said being outside was "a big difference" for Gio Ponti, who is trained by Christophe Clement. Gio Ponti, a colt by Tale of the Cat, is owned by Castleton Lyons.

Kent Desormeaux, who rode Court Vision, credited Gomez with a good piece of race riding.

"He had enough horse to say, 'No,' " Desormeaux said.

It was a tough afternoon for Desormeaux, who just a half-hour earlier finished a close second with Namaste's Wish in the Grade 3, $200,000 Virginia Oaks.

I Lost My Choo ($6), the favorite, unleashed a furious late rush to win the Virginia Oaks. She and Namaste's Wish reeled in Julia Tuttle, who opened a huge lead down the backstretch and into the lane, but faltered in the final furlong to finish third.

I Lost My Choo completed 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:50.12. The win was her fifth in eight lifetime starts. Phil Serpe trains I Lost My Choo for Flying Zee Stable.

Edgar Prado rode I Lost My Choo, giving him a consolation prize after the scratch of El Sultry Sun.