There were many big performances last weekend, including Bullsbay with a shocking win in the Whitney, Zenyatta keeping her perfect record alive in a thrilling Clement Hirsch, and Fabulous Strike proving he is the nation's best six-furlong sprinter in the Vanderbilt. But in my mind, Gio Ponti's Arlington Million score was the best.
It was the fourth grade I win in a row for the 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat, and it solidified his status as America's best turf horse. It also made him a solid contender for Horse of the Year honors.
One of the intriguing things about Gio Ponti is that he is so versatile. He can run on turf anywhere from a mile to 1 1/4 miles, and he is also proven on synthetics. With the Breeders' Cup right around the corner, it is interesting to think about different possibilities for such a talented horse.
I went right to the source and asked trainer Christophe Clement about Gio's future plans. Clement, with a thick French accent, is sometimes difficult to understand. But he is always a straight shooter who will tell you exactly what he is thinking-and without much prodding. Although the following interview was brief, he did answer a few important questions most of us had about Gio Ponti going forward:
JS: Congratulations on winning the Arlington Million. You had won many big turf races in this country, but never the Million. What did it mean to you?
CC: I had tried a few times before but could never win it. It's such a great race and naturally it means a lot.
JS: It was written that you were very confident in the post parade, more so than usual. Why was that?
CC: I was confident because Gio Ponti was training exceptionally well going into the race. I figured, instead of us worrying, let's let someone else worry for a change.
JS: What are his biggest strengths as a racehorse?
CC: He is versatile. He's won anywhere from a mile to 1 1/4 miles. He had won by staying close to the pace or from off the pace. He's won on a number of different kinds of surfaces, at many tracks. He can do everything.
JS: What are the biggest improvements you've seen with him from last year?
CC: First of all, people forget he was a very good 3-year-old, the best one in New York in my opinion last year. He got beat by a neck by Court Vision in the Jamaica and had trouble. But more than anything, he's matured both physically and mentally from last year. He's stronger and has a better turn of foot. He is more laid back too.
JS: And he's proven not only on turf, but on synthetics surfaces...
CC: Right, which is why we have to consider him for the Breeders' Cup Classic. It's one of four races we are considering. There is the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Mile on turf, the (Dirt) Mile, or the Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles. We have not made a decision yet; we have plenty of time to decide.
JS: Is Horse of the Year a factor in your decision?
CC: No. That is for you writers to vote on. I am not concerned with it. My goal is to win races, not worry about that stuff.
JS: But does it weigh on your mind that if you win the Breeders' Cup Classic it could give you a very good chance at winning the award?
CC: No. It's not my goal. I don't concern myself with that.
JS: OK, so what are your plans with Gio Ponti between now and the Breeders' Cup?
CC: We have four choices: train him up to the Breeders' Cup; go to the Turf Classic (Oct. 3 at Belmont); the Woodbine Mile (Sept. 20) or find a race on Polytrack. We will map out a plan in a week or two. There is no rush. We want to make sure he is doing well.
Stay tuned. This could get very interesting...