Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whither Gio Ponti in Breeders' Cup?

It's a curious question. Why take a champion grass horse and run him off the turf in two straight Breeders' Cups?

But that might happen with Gio Ponti.

Discussion at Facebook prompted me to consider the options along with the connections of this horse, who seem to be mulling whether to go on grass (and from there, in the Mile or the 12-furlong Turf), or whether to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic like last year -- albeit this time on dirt at Churchill Downs rather than Pro-Ride synthetic at Santa Anita.

The connections have said their plans as of today are to cross-enter him in the Mile and the Classic. But I think it's worth a full discussion of the particulars on all three races anyway.

I have noticed comments in a Facebook discussion from those who project Gio Ponti will go in the mile (to face two-time defending champion Goldikova, Europe's best mare) because the distance of the other races is too far. This puzzles me a little, considering Gio Ponti has five graded-stakes wins at 10 furlongs (the distance of the Classic) and beyond. He hasn't won at a mile and a half -- the distance of the Breeders' Cup Turf. But he was only asked to run 12 furlongs once, and while he didn't win (upset by Interpatation), Gio Ponti still finished second. It isn't like he faded to seventh. With a pair of wins in the 11-furlong, Grade 1 Man O' War the past two seasons, I'm not sure why the extra eighth of the Breeders' Cup Turf would be a panel too far. (Though his sire, Tale of the Cat, was at his best sprinting; more on him later.)

The allure of the Breeders' Cup Classic on the main track is simple. Not only is it a $5 million race, but if Gio Ponti wins it, his stallion syndication value skyrockets.

Through the prism of residual value, the horse has accomplished virtually all he can on grass. He is a turf champion, and champion older male last year without running a step in his life on actual dirt (a relative rarity). His gutsy runner-up finish to Zenyatta on Pro-Ride at Santa Anita in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic helped seal the older male title. He's the likely U.S. turf champion again unless unseated by a horse like Paddy O'Prado, who could do so by upsetting in the B.C. Turf. (Which, according to this story, he won't be trying, as Donegal Racing opts for the Classic, as well.)

If Gio Ponti were to win the 12-furlong Breeders' Cup Turf -- a distance at which American races are rarely run -- it does nothing to spike his stud fee above the range of former turf champions now at stud like English Channel ($25,000) and Kitten's Joy ($40,000). Gio Ponti is already in that territory (probably more in English Channel's proximity) as a stallion prospect based on his prior work.

Even unseating Goldikova in the Mile likely does him no good as a syndication prospect. (I've seen Gio Ponti described as having "no chance" against Goldi. But she's lost six of 20 lifetime, so she isn't unbeatable. And if anyone is going to do it, a horse like Gio Ponti -- 11-for-22 lifetime, 18-for-22 at least second place, is as likely as any in the race to do it.)

But "figuring" at all in the Breeders' Cup Classic on the real-dirt main track at Churchill -- even third place -- gives his potential customers at stud the hope that they might get a dirt horse from their mating, especially depending on the pedigree and prior production of their mare.

So what are Gio Ponti's chances in the Classic?

For starters, how can it be easier to win in that race against unbeaten Zenyatta than it would be in the Mile against Goldikova? (Although we've established Gio Ponti wouldn't necessarily need to win, for his connections to heavily benefit financially.)

Beyond that, for any horse that has never raced over a given surface, it's just a roll of the dice.

Considering there is more money and more prestige on dirt in American racing, if trainer Christophe Clement and owner Castleton Lyons Farm really thought they had a legit main-track horse, I'm surprised they haven't tried him on dirt already. But perhaps they've just been trying not to mess with success, and with consecutive Breeders' Cups run on Pro-Ride at Santa Anita, there wasn't any need until now to consider dirt.

Gio Ponti is hardly bred against the dirt. His sire, Tale of the Cat, was a main-track runner, with his best victory coming in the Grade 2 King's Bishop, sprinting at Saratoga. And Gio Ponti's dam, Chipeta Springs (Alydar-Salt Spring, by Salt Marsh), has produced two other stakes horses in G2-placed stakes winner Bon Jovi Girl and 11-furlong G3 victor Fisher Pond, both of whom have done their running on dirt. Second dam Salt Spring was Grade 1 placed on both dirt and grass behind the likes of Princess Rooney and Fact Finder.

One source I read elsewhere online stated Gio Ponti carries a 399 Tomlinson rating for a wet track. (Half-brother Fisher Pond's win in the G3 Lawrence Realization was in the slop, as supporting evidence.) So if the track comes up a little bit (or a lot) "off" at Churchill on Breeders' Cup weekend, that could play into Gio Ponti's hands in a one-off try over a real, live (non-synthetic) main track.

While winning is always the primary objective, it would appear that from the perspective of residual value, the connections of Gio Ponti have little to gain by the horse winning the Breeders' Cup Mile or Turf (other than a spiffy trophy, worldwide acclaim and a pretty good purse). Meanwhile, even being beaten by any (but not all) of the likes of Zenyatta, Blame, Quality Road, Lookin at Lucky or whomever in the Classic could elevate his value -- provided Gio puts in the kind of gritty performance he offered in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, losing only a length to The Unbeaten One herself, on her home surface.

And even if he runs up the track, Gio Ponti has all the excuse he needs -- first time on dirt. Provided he comes out of the Classic in one piece, there's probably nothing to be lost, even by finishing last.

As his racing career comes to an end and a much lengthier and potentially far more lucrative stallion career beings, there appears to be little but up-side to running in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

I'm starting to think that's where he'll go.

1 comment:

  1. Gio Ponti's chances of winning the Classic are approximately zero.

    The only reason that this issue has arisen is because the owner of the horse is fantasizing about a best-case scenario which has virtually no chance of being realized.


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