10/05/2009 12:00AM

Turf ace Gio Ponti aims for Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Gio Ponti, the nation's top turf horse, will head to the Breeders' Cup Classic - not the Turf.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Though Gio Ponti fell short of winning his fifth consecutive Grade 1 turf race on Saturday, trainer Christophe Clement said he feels his horse has nothing left to prove on the grass. Thus, Clement and owner Shane Thomas Ryan will give Gio Ponti a new challenge by taking on some of the best horses in the world in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

Clement hopes that Gio Ponti's wins in the Frank Kilroe at Santa Anita, Manhattan, and Man o' War at Belmont, and Arlington Million in Chicago are enough to offset his loss to 43-1 shot Interpatation in last Saturday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic to earn the 4-year-old an Eclipse Award as North America's top male turf horse. The Joe Hirsch was run over an extremely soft turf course after the skies opened up Saturday afternoon.

Since turf horses seem to transition well to synthetic surfaces - Gio Ponti already won the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort over the Pro-Ride last December - Clement feels this is the perfect year to try the Classic.

"One, he came out of his race in good order,'' Clement said Monday. "Two, we believe he does not have that much to prove anymore as the leading turf horse in America. Three, the Classic is an exciting challenge; it should be a very good race. It's a mile and a quarter, but I believe he's got as good a shot as anybody else in the race. Let's go for it.''

The first two finishers from last year's Classic were Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator, two turf horses from Europe. North America's top dirt horse, Curlin, could do no better than fourth. This year, North America's top dirt horse entering the Classic might very well be Summer Bird, the 3-year-old who added Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup to victories in the Travers and Belmont Stakes earlier in the year. Summer Bird has never raced over the Pro-Ride, though he did breeze over it for two months late last year.

"It might be a tougher challenge for him than it is for Gio Ponti,'' Clement said. "Gio Ponti has won a graded stakes on Santa Anta's artificial surface, and I really think a mile and a quarter is an ideal distance for him. He's doing great, he had a break, he's a fresh horse.''

Clement said that, weather permitting, Gio Ponti would do the majority of his training at Belmont before shipping to Santa Anita the week of the Breeders' Cup.

Summer Bird to ship next Monday

Summer Bird came out of his victory in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup in much better shape than his trainer.

Tim Ice caught a nasty cold on Saturday and had to skip his usual barn detail on Monday morning, though he did return for feed time.

Ice said Summer Bird "looked super'' on Sunday and that plans call for him to ship to Southern California on Monday. The horse will work the subsequent three Saturdays to get ready for the Classic. Before coming to Ice, Summer Bird was in the barn of John Sadler, where he breezed nine times over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride from Nov. 6 to Dec. 30, 2008.

"We'll get him out there, get him over the track and have three works before the Breeders' Cup,'' Ice said. "We'll let him tell us whether he likes it or not. Each track I shipped him to he's gotten over it. Some tracks, it's taken a few days like when we first shipped to Belmont [in the spring]. I think it's not going to be an issue, I'm going out there with an open mind, not thinking anything negative about the racetrack.''

Quality Road possible for Classic, Dirt Mile

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Quality Road, second to Summer Bird in the Gold Cup, would be pointed to a Breeders' Cup race, though which one has yet to be determined. Pletcher said the Classic and the Dirt Mile are the two most logical spots.

Pletcher said he needed to talk to owner Ed Evans to "see exactly which race we're going to be in, but the horse came out of the race well and right now the plan would be to go to the Breeders' Cup.''

Pletcher said he felt Quality Road handled the 1 1/4 miles of the Gold Cup Cup "very well, and we don't think that's an issue, but we'll think it all through."

Pletcher said Munnings, third in the Vosburgh, would be pointed to the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 28.

Interpatation pleasantly surprises his trainer

Trainer Bob Barbara said that walking into the paddock for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, he was trying to compute what sixth-place - in this case last-place - money was worth. He was slightly disappointed to learn it was $12,000 as opposed to $18,000, which he had originally thought.

Disappointment turned to delirium when Interpatation defeated Gio Ponti, earning $360,000.

"I was guaranteed $12,000 and got $360,000,'' said Barbara, who trains Interpatation for Elliott Mavorah. "It was just something that happened.''

Barbara joked that victory in the Hirsch was a natural progression. The horse finished fourth in the race in 2006, third in 2007, and second in it last year.

It was only the sixth victory from 50 career starts for Interpatation, whose two most recent victories came in the President's Cup at Philadelphia Park in 2007 and 2008. While Barbara said Interpatation "doesn't have any kick anymore,'' he did tell jockey Robby Albarado that he could get the 1 1/2-mile distance.

"If he's somewhere early he'll be there late because he will get the mile and a half,'' Barbara said. "When he was on the lead it was funny; he'd never been on the lead his entire life, never even for a jump. When he passed me by going into the first turn I was real comfortable he was just galloping. I said 'Wherever he ends up, he ends up.' It was just a good day.''

Barbara said it's possible that Interpatation gets turned out for the remainder of the year and brought back next year as an 8-year-old.

Hough babies work toward the weekend

While many horsemen are focusing on the Breeders' Cup, trainer Stanley Hough's attention is on a pair of Grade 1 stakes this weekend at Belmont Park. Hough plans to watch Futurity runner-up Discreetly Mine in the Grade 1 Champagne for juvenile colts and geldings, while he will start Matron winner Awesome Maria in the Grade 1 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies.

On Monday, Hough gave the green light for Discreetly Mine to run in the Champagne after watching him breeze five furlongs in 1:01.08 under jockey Cornelio Velasquez. Discreetly Mine breezed in company with the 3-year-old maiden winner Yes I'm Clever, breaking off slightly behind and finishing about three lengths in front.

Discreetly Mine stepped on himself during the running of the Futurity, developed a little infection that required treatment, and missed a few days of training.

"This was his first major work, but he went good,'' Hough said. "He felt good to [Velasquez].''

Earlier, Hough worked Matron winner Awesome Maria a half-mile in 49.83 seconds in company with T Rae, an unstarted 2-year-old filly, who went 50.41.

Medina sustains broken collarbone

Apprentice jockey Jesiere Medina sustained a broken collarbone and is expected to miss about two months as a result of being thrown from her mount, Paddy's Double H, in Saturday's ninth race. Paddy's Double H had to be euthanized after suffering an apparent heart attack in the stretch of the nightcap.

As of Monday, Medina, 21, remained in North Shore University Hospital waiting to see a specialist to determine if the injury requires surgery, according to her agent, Tony Cordero.

* Speaking of apprentice riders, Luis Saez, who has ridden 45 winners from 198 mounts at Calder since Aug. 20, is named to ride Everybodywantsone in Wednesday's ninth race for trainer Tim Ritvo. Saez, 17, is expected to ride in New York this winter, according to his agent Peter Wright.