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Gio Ponti and Ramon Dominguez return after winning the Man O'War.
The feature race of the week in New York is the $600,000 Man o'War Stakes (G1), contested at 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf course at Belmont Park. A field of 8 older horses went to post on Saturday afternoon under cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 80's before just 4,676 fans. As expected, last year's winner Gio Ponti was sent off as the 2-5 favorite, second in the Manhattan Handicap(G1) last out and winless since last year's Arlington Million (G1). In to challenge him included 6-1 second choice Expansion, off a third in the Manhattan, and 9-1 Grand Couturier, seventh in the Manhattan last out and winless since the Bowling Green Handicap (G2) last September.
Gio Ponti rallies on the outside in the stretch while Mission Approved leads.
Jockey Jose Espinoza sent 53-1 longest shot Mission Approved to the front and he was allowed an uncontested lead of as many as 3 1/2 lengths through slow fractions of 26.13, 52.27, 1:18.07, and 1:42.30. 11-1 Strike a Deal stalked him in second while Expansion rated in third, as heavy favorite Gio Ponti settled in last 7 lengths off the pace down the backstretch. Entering the stretch, Strike a Deal tired badly and faded to last, while Mission Approved took advantage of the slow early pace and opened up a 2 length lead on Expansion through 1 1/4 miles in 2:05.03. Gio Ponti came out for room at the 1/4 pole and closed with a rush down the center of the course to nail the pacesetter by a neck at the line, completing the 11 furlong trip in 2:16.20 over the firm course. I was another 1/2 length back to Expansion third.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 8 Gio Ponti Dominguez 2.80 2.30 2.10 5 Mission Approved Espinoza 17.80 7.40 4 Expansion Castellano 2.80 Winning Time: 2:16.20 $2 Exacta 8-5 66.85 $2 Trifecta 8-5-4 252.50 $2 Superfecta 8-5-4-2 1,524.00
Left: Gio Ponti takes his walk down Victory Lane led by Shane Ryan, the President of Castleton Lyons which owns him.
Right: Gio Ponti in the winner's circle with trainer Christophe Clement on the far left. Clement said, "The grass is green, and even greener now! I'm delighted with Gio Ponti. Everyone made a big deal of him getting beaten the last time, [but] I never had a doubt that the horse was the leader of his division and I'm delighted with the way he ran today. The race was completely against him; they walked in front, he was last, but he's good enough to be versatile and win the race. He's back winning and we'll go for the Arlington Million or the Pacific Classic, one of the two. Now we can enjoy it a little bit, see how he comes out of it. His well-being is the main thing. As long as the horse is doing well, we'll be back in one of those two races."
Left: Gio Ponti heads out of the paddock before the race. His jockey Ramon Dominguez said, "I was a little concerned about the way the race was going to unfold. I knew there wasn't a whole lot of speed, and that there were a lot of horses with similar running styles to mine. As the race unfolded, I was a little concerned about the slow pace, but I was very happy with the way he was traveling. Turning for home, I felt it was a matter of getting a little racing luck. When he split horses, at that point, I felt a little more confident, and that he would get there. (Mission Approved) ran an excellent race. I am very happy, not only for myself but for the horse."
Right: Gio Ponti returns after the race.
Left: Second place finisher Mission Approved returns the race. His owner and trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul said, "I thought he was a really nice horse, and he showed it today. We ran him long where he could have an easy lead. I thought we had him, but Gio Ponti is a great horse. I couldn't ask for anything else." Jockey Jose Espinoza added, "They were going along slow through the first 1/2 mile and then Gio Ponti kicked in really well at the end to catch me in the last jumps."
Right: Third place finisher Expansion in the paddock before the race. The 6-1 second choice sat in third 4 lengths off the pace early under jockey Javier Castellano, moved up on the leaders on the turn but could not improve position late, finishing third beaten 3/4 lengths at the line. The Chad Brown trainee improved his record to 4 wins, 7 seconds, and 3 thirds in 20 starts, earning $365.610 for owners Gary and Mary West.
Past winners of the Man O'War Stakes
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