10/06/2011 2:31PM

Keeneland: Gio Ponti defending Shadwell title

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
Gio Ponti, with Ramon Dominguez riding, wins the 2010 Shadwell Mile.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Five races have come and gone since Gio Ponti last found the winner’s circle. No one disputes the class nor desire of a 6-year-old who has knocked out nearly $5.7 million in earnings, but the question must be asked: Is Gio Ponti really as good as he once was?

“I think he is as solid as he has ever been,” said Christophe Clement, who trains Gio Ponti for the Castleton Lyons of Shane Ryan. “He runs the same kind of numbers as he always does. So for me, he seems to be as good, even if he has not won, which is just what we call a lack of racing luck.”

The issue is relevant as Gio Ponti prepares to defend his championship as a deserving favorite in the richest race of the Keeneland fall meet, the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile. The Grade 1 Shadwell anchors a blockbuster Saturday card at Keeneland, with four other graded races, all of them potential stepping-stones to the Breeders’ Cup, directly preceding it on a 10-race program.

Gio Ponti was extremely impressive in his 2010 Shadwell victory, lagging back for most of the journey before unleashing a torrid stretch run that carried him to a deceptively easy one-length score. Since then, he has run into buzzsaws such as Goldikova and Cape Blanco while competing at the highest possible levels, all while maintaining the respectability and consistency that have become his hallmarks.

For this 26th running of the Shadwell Mile, which figures to be the 28th and next-to-last race of his career, Gio Ponti will have to summon up another big effort after breaking from post 5 under regular rider Ramon Dominguez. The eight-horse field might well be as deep for the Shadwell as it has ever been, with millionaires Sidney’s Candy and Get Stormy posing legitimate front-end threats and several others looming on the fringes.

Sidney’s Candy clearly gets excused for his last race, the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga, where the speedy 4-year-old turned back from turf routes to a dirt sprint, resulting in a decisive defeat as a lukewarm favorite. The Forego was just the second start for Sidney’s Candy since he was sold privately and turned over to Todd Pletcher.

“Hopefully going back to a mile on grass will get him back in his element,” said Pletcher assistant Michael McCarthy.

If form holds, Sidney’s Candy, with Joel Rosario riding from post 2, surely will sail off to make or contest the early pace, with Get Stormy (post 8, Garrett Gomez) right there to accompany him. Get Stormy, an earner of nearly $1.2 million for Sullimar Stables and trainer Tom Bush, won the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile here six months ago and has proven particularly effective throughout his career in just this sort of spot.

The prospect of Sidney’s Candy and Get Stormy becoming engaged in a sustained duel up front certainly wouldn’t seem to hinder the chances of Gio Ponti, who “has the remarkable turn of foot,” said Clement. “That turn of foot is even more efficient when he gets pace in the race. In this case it seems like, on paper, we should get plenty of pace, and the ground should be firm,” which Gio Ponti tends to prefer, he added.

Surely the most intriguing unknown in this rugged renewal of the Shadwell, which is a fees-paid Win and You’re In event toward the Nov. 5 BC Mile, is Zoffany, the lone 3-year-old in the field. Carrying the blue and orange silks of the European powerhouse, Coolmore, and trained by Aidan O’Brien, Zoffany will be getting first-time Lasix after having raced in Group 1 company in Europe in 5 of his last 6 starts.

Coolmore and O’Brien won the Shadwell under similar circumstances when Aussie Rules, a 3-year-old, prevailed five years ago.

Yet one more viable threat is locally based Wise Dan, who goes for a third straight stakes victory after capturing the Grade 2 Firecracker at Churchill Downs and the $250,000 Presque Isle Downs Mile in his latest.

Rounding out the Shadwell cast are Tajaaweed, Dance and Dance, and Society’s Chairman.

With spectacular autumn weather in the forecast, an ontrack crowd approaching 30,000 does not seem unrealistic for Saturday, when the Grade 3 Woodford (race 5), Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America (race 6), Grade 1 First Lady (race 7), and Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity (race 8) will create quite a crescendo leading up to the Shadwell (race 9). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern, with the Shadwell set for 5:45.

Live coverage of the Breeders’ Futurity (5:13) and the Shadwell will be provided on a one-hour broadcast on the Versus cable network, while extensive onsite coverage of the entire card also will be available on TVG. Also, live streaming of all Keeneland races throughout the 17-day meet is available at drf.com.


# HORSE JOCKEY TRAINER

1

Tajaaweed 
ML: 15-1
J. Graham 
126 Lbs
D. Peitz

1

Sidney's Candy 
ML: 3-1
J. Rosario 
126 Lbs
T. Pletcher

1

Dance And Dance (IRE) 
ML: 8-1
J. Spencer 
126 Lbs
E. Vaughan

1

Zoffany (IRE) 
ML: 3-1
C. O'Donoghue 
123 Lbs
A. O'Brien

1

Gio Ponti 
ML: 5-2
R. Dominguez 
126 Lbs
C. Clement

1

Society's Chairman 
ML: 8-1
J. Leparoux 
126 Lbs
R. Attfield

1

Wise Dan 
ML: 12-1
J. Court 
126 Lbs
C. Lopresti

1

Get Stormy 
ML: 5-1
G. Gomez 
126 Lbs
T. Bush