10/07/2010 4:48PM

Gio Ponti's ultimate target still up in the air


LEXINGTON, Ky. – There will be an embarrassment of riches Saturday at Keeneland, and that’s forgetting for a moment the $4.3 million that Gio Ponti has amassed. It’s more the cumulative sum of all the big-money horses, Gio Ponti included, who will be making their final starts before the Breeders’ Cup.

The $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, the richest race of the 17-day fall meet, will mark the jumping-off point for Gio Ponti as he makes his way to Louisville toward the Breeders’ Cup. The Shadwell is one of five FallStars Weekend events, all of them graded, to be run on a blockbuster 11-race card Saturday. Standouts such as Proviso, already a three-time Grade 1 winner this year, and 2009 Breeders’ Cup winners Informed Decision and California Flag also will race here Saturday.

For a marquee horse, however, it’s hard to top Gio Ponti, a multiple Eclipse Award honoree who has filled a number of dramatic roles at the highest levels of American racing for much of his 21-race career. The 5-year-old Gio Ponti reeled off four straight Grade 1 wins last year, including the Arlington Million, and subsequently was second in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic and the 2010 Million.

“He has been very good to us,” said Christophe Clement, the New York-based Frenchman who trains Gio Ponti for the Castleton Lyons Farm of Tony Ryan. “He never seems to run a bad race, and he’s run against the very best. With just a little more of what I c all racing luck, his record would be even better.”

The Shadwell is a Win and You’re In event to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Mile on the Churchill Downs turf, but Gio Ponti is not necessarily pointing to that race, said Clement. “We might be leaning toward the Classic again, but it’s not a decision we have to make today,” he said.

Ramon Dominguez will be in from New York to ride Gio Ponti for the 10th straight time.

Gio Ponti will have several formidable rivals in the Shadwell, which is carded as the 10th race. Courageous Cat, second to the sensational Goldikova in the BC Mile last year, and Get Stormy, a winner in 7 of his last 8 starts, also are part of a six-horse lineup.

Courageous Cat, trained by Bill Mott, will be making his first start since he was ninth in the Dubai Duty Free in late March.

“He seemed a little jarred up after Dubai,” said Mott.

Get Stormy, who figures to be forcing an early pace set by California invader Enriched, did not necessarily beat top-notch fields throughout his win streak, trainer Tommy Bush conceded in refreshing fashion, adding he will be as interested as anyone to see his stable star square off against the likes of Gio Ponti.

“I think the fields he has faced have been a little suspect,” said Bush, who was here last fall to send out Get Stormy to win the Bryan Station Stakes versus 3-year-olds.

Patrick Valenzuela gets the call on Courageous Cat, while Javier Castellano rides Get Stormy.

Society’s Chairman and Acting Zippy round out the Shadwell cast.

The Shadwell, first run in 1986, long has been a major race for North American turf milers. Court Vision won last year in a tight photo over Karelian.

The Shadwell is one of three Keeneland races that will air Saturday on ESPN Classic and ESPN3. The others are the Grade 1 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (race 9) and the Grade 1 First Lady (race 8). TVG also will have expanded coverage of the entire Saturday card, which also includes the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America (race 7), the Grade 3 Woodford (race 6), and the first race in track history for Arabians, the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup (race 3). First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

The Shadwell will be the anchor leg of a late pick four (races 7-10; minimum 50 cents) with a guaranteed pool of $250,000. There also will be the regular late pick four on races 8-11.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high temperature of 83. A huge crowd is expected, with the University of Kentucky hosting Auburn in a night football game at nearby Commonwealth Stadium.