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Gio Ponti goes for two in a row in Manhattan

ELMONT, N.Y. – Gio Ponti, who became a Grade 1 winner with a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the Frank Kilroe Mile Handicap, tries to make it two in a row Saturday as he takes on 13 other turf stars in the 108th running of the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.

“He’s been a very consistent horse right from the beginning,” said trainer Christophe Clement of the 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat, who brings a record of 6-2-0 from 11 starts into the 1 ¼ mile Manhattan, race 10 on the Belmont Stakes Day’s 13-race card. “I expect him to be competitive. His last race was amazing.”

In the Kilroe, Gio Ponti came wide through the stretch to nip the highly-regarded Ventura at the wire, winning by a nose.

“That was at a mile, and that’s her game when she’s right,” said Clement, who won this race in 2001 with Forbidden Apple. “Probably a mile and an eighth is more suited to him, but with firm ground, I expect him to run well.”

Owned by Castleton Lyons, where he was foaled, Gio Ponti drew post No. 4 and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez.

Sharing high weight at 120 pounds with Gio Ponti are a pair of veteran turf horses – IEAH Stables’ Court Vision and Magnolia Racing Stables’ Cowboy Cal.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, a three-time winner of the Manhattan, Court Vision has yet to find the winner’s circle after three starts this year, all Grade 1 events. The millionaire son of Gulch was third to Einstein in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, seventh again to that one in the Santa Anita Handicap, and third to Kip Deville in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in the first start of his four-year-old campaign.

Court Vision will break from post No. 2 with jockey Ramon Dominguez aboard, and run as part of an IEAH entry with Optimer (ARG).

Cowboy Cal, who has been first or second in all but three of his 13 lifetime starts, is also coming out of the Turf Classic, having finished second by a head. After a brief trip along the Triple Crown trail last year – he was ninth in the Kentucky Derby after finishing a close-up second in the Blue Grass – he returned to the turf and synthetic surfaces and this year won the San Pasqual Handicap and the Strub, both Grade 2 races, over Pro Ride at Santa Anita.

“A mile and a quarter is probably not his best distance, but he has been training well,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s been a very consistent horse for us.”

Cowboy Cal will be ridden by John Velazquez from post No. 11.

The veteran in the field is Bushwood Stable’s remarkable Better Talk Now, who at age 10 will be making his 50th career start. Sixth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland in his only start this year, he will carry 117 pounds including jockey Jeremy Rose, as he breaks from post No. 9.

Rounding out the field, from the rail out, are Marsh Side, Premium Gold, Champs Elysees (GB), Wesley, Senior, Cosmonaut, Interpatation, Lauro (GER) and Zambezi Sun (GB).


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