Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - He was probably going to get in anyway. But Saturday, three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti made it official he was going to have a place reserved in this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, the champion thoroughbred notched his second straight win in the race and is now headed down the road to Churchill Downs for, most likely, the Breeders' Cup Mile.
"Most probably the Mile, but it will be up to my owner, Mr. Shane Ryan," trainer Christophe Clement said following the half-length victory by Gio Ponti. "Let's enjoy this; this is wonderful. And let's enjoy Gio Ponti. He's a wonderful horse."
This year has been more difficult for the six-year-old than the previous two. Saturday's narrow win is the first of 2011 for Gio Ponti after dropping the first four starts. Two of the losses came against European invader Cape Blanco.
Now retired with a leg fracture, Cape Blanco came across the Atlantic to win the Man o'War and Arlington Million with Gio Ponti finishing second both times.
"You know he's a top-class horse, and I really mean this. He's a top, top- class horse, firm turf, mile to mile and a quarter. The mile today was a bit quick as you saw for him. He was a bit unlucky this year. I've been running him on softer ground. There's nothing I can do; the program is made that way, and I cannot control the weather," Clement said about his satisfaction with the Shadwell performance.
Gio Ponti's victory was worth $360,000 to boost his career earnings to better than $6 million in 28 starts with a dozen wins. If fact it was the horse's first victory since claiming last year's Shadwell Mile.
"Winning this race means so much to me because we had so many seconds and close calls, and he's such a great horse," Gio Ponti's jockey Ramon Dominguez exclaimed Saturday. "Christophe has been saying all along that he certainly prefers a firm ground, and he showed that today."
Gio Ponti has become a fan favorite with his determination no matter the racing surface or competition. Primarily a turf runner, in 2009 Clement started the horse in the Breeders' Cup Classic on a synthetic track at Santa Anita. Facing Zenyatta in the 1 1/4-mile race, Gio Ponti did everything possible, but could only finish second to the great female thoroughbred.
Last year, again a lady defeated Gio Ponti. Goldikova claimed her third straight Breeders' Cup Mile by holding off Gio Ponti by less than two-lengths.
"He's been great to all of us - my owner, my staff, myself," Clement noted. "It's very exciting. We go to the Breeders' Cup, and it's fun to play at that level. He'll be very difficult to replace. I have to enjoy him because I know it's going to be awhile before I get another one.
"His main attribute - he's six-years-old - we've been able to keep him sound, which is a big deal. As long as you can keep him sound, he takes care of the running."
Despite not winning a Breeders' Cup race, Gio Ponti has been rewarded with three separate titles. He was voted 2009 champion older male thoroughbred as well as champion turf male and last year again received the Eclipse Award as champion male turf thoroughbred.
After a trip home to Belmont Park, Gio Ponti will travel back to Kentucky for another try versus Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile on November 5.