In the current age of Thoroughbred racing, Gio Ponti is among the rarest of breeds — a multiple champion still competing against the best when many of his ilk have either dropped off in form or headed to the breeding shed.
However, after Gio Ponti went winless in four starts in 2011, some began to wonder if the years of knocking heads against top company had robbed the 6-year-old horse of some of his magic.
His connections countered that he was the victim of circumstances this season, not lost talent. In the final furlong of Saturday's Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, Gio Ponti indeed showed that on his best day, his form still ranks among the most formidable in the sport.
Castleton Lyons' homebred bay beauty silenced some critics on Saturday when he ran down Grade I winner Get Stormy in the final strides to take the $600,000 Shadwell Turf for a second straight season and earn the sixth Grade I victory of his storied career.
Though Gio Ponti continued to deliver honest runs this season, the three-time Eclipse Award winner and runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile hadn't triumphed in five starts since capturing last year's edition of the Shadwell Turf Mile. In addition to a fifth-place run in the Dubai World Cup and a third-place effort in the Grade I Manhattan Stakes, Gio Ponti was a well-beaten second to Cape Blanco in both the Grade I Arlington Million on Aug. 13 and the Grade I Man o' War Stakes on July 9.
In his most recent three starts, Gio Ponti failed to get the firm turf over which his late turn of foot is most effective. With the Keeneland ground to his liking Saturday and Sidney's Candy setting a pace of :23.63 and :47.08 early on, Gio Ponti looked like his old self when he fought past Get Stormy on the outside to get up by half a length.
"He's been genuine all year as he has all his career," said Shane Ryan, owner of Castleton Lyons. "You don't get one like him that often so when you do you keep going.
"Especially this year, we've had a bit of bad weather and the ground hasn't gone for us. But if you believe his (speed) marks, they're all as good as last year if not better."
The betting public also maintained faith in Gio Ponti, sending him off as the 9-5 favorite in a field that featured Grade I winners in Sidney's Candy and Get Stormy as well as the improving Wise Dan.
True to form, Sidney's Candy displayed early speed and was uncontested on the lead through the opening half-mile while jockey Ramon Dominguez settled Gio Ponti into fourth on the inside path.
Having tracked Sidney's Candy in second, Get Stormy began reeling that one in on the final turn and fought his way to the front inside the final sixteenth of a mile. Though Gio Ponti looked beaten only a few strides beforehand, he came running three-wide in deep stretch inside of a fading Wise Dan to win in 1:34.17.
"Ramon was much closer to the pace than usual and I didn't think he was going to get there at the quarter pole," said Gio Ponti's trainer, Christophe Clement. "He was so impressive, he has so much guts he came back. Most probably the (Breeders' Cup) Mile is next ... but let's enjoy this."
Get Stormy, who was attempting to become the first horse to win both the Grade I Maker's Mark Mile and Shadwell Turf at Keeneland in the same year, was 1 length clear of Sidney's Candy, who held for third.
"He had to work to get by Sidney's Candy and it took its toll," said Tom Bush, trainer of Get Stormy. "I'll have to think about (the Breeders' Cup Mile). He ran super today, he just got beat by one of the best."