Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Uncle and the Champion: Uncle Mo and Gio Ponti

Posted by Brian Appleton on October 11, 2010

The great Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew went undefeated in three starts as a two-year-old in 1976, first winning a maiden race at Belmont and then taking an allowance race less than a month later. 11 days later he triumphed in the Champagne Stakes (gr.1) to finish out his juvenile year, running what now stands as the second fastest time in the prestigious race.

What took Seattle Slew three races to accomplish only took Uncle Mo two. In Belmont’s celebrated Champagne Stakes (gr.1) on Saturday Uncle Mo went from impressive maiden winner to ultra-impressive Grade 1 winner and became an instant favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr.1) in early November at Churchill Downs as well as one of the most exciting Triple Crown candidates of 2011.

Entering the starting gate in the Champagne as the favorite off his power-house maiden romp in which he dusted his opposition by more than 14 lengths, the Indian Charlie colt with jockey John Velazquez up stormed out of the gate as the bell rang and engaged in a heated speed duel with long-shot I’m Steppin’ It up. Blitzing an opening quarter in :22.41 and a half in :45.92 it appeared the favorite was leaving himself wide open and vulnerable to attack as the field entered the turn. Dismissing any such ideas with absolute disdain Uncle Mo powered off the turn and into the stretch with a two length lead as Mountain Town blazed up behind under a full head of steam, looking dangerous and determined. Into the stretch Mountain Town kept coming but Uncle Mo, incredibly, continued to extend his lead under a vigorous hand-ride from John Velazquez to flash under the wire 4 ¾ lengths the best, equaling Seattle Slew’s Champagne Stakes record time of 1:34 2/5 for the mile. Mountain Town was more than 9 lengths ahead of the third place finisher, having turned in a superb effort that simply got overpowered by the greatest two-year-old performance of the year.

As trainer Todd Pletcher would say, the sky is the limit for Uncle Mo, this colt could have it all.

Gio Ponti is back and he looks better than ever. In his first mile distance race since March 2009 Gio Ponti showed just how good an athlete he is when splitting horses mid-stretch in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr.1) to turn almost certain defeat into rousing victory.

Breaking slowly from the gate, Gio Ponti sat well off the pace set by the front running pair of Acting Zippy and Enriched as the field

raced to the turn. Entering the stretch it was Enriched with a short lead but Courageous Cat came storming up on the outside to seize the lead. It appeared Courageous Cat was home free but from the back of the field both Gio Ponti and Society’s Chairman were in a full out drive, making up ground with every stride. Mid stretch Gio Ponti suddenly came to life, switching leads and gunning for the finish. The champion burst from between Society’s Chairman and Courageous Cat, exploding to a one length lead in a hand ride and waltzing under the line with ears pricked.

The question now remains which Breeders’ Cup race will Gio Ponti be pointed toward. He finished a strong second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to Zenyatta but with this impressive victory under his belt serious consideration must now be given to the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

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5 Responses to “The Uncle and the Champion: Uncle Mo and Gio Ponti”

  1. Brian,

    This may have been the best juvenile performance I’ve ever seen. While I was alive when SEATTLE SLEW ran his devastating Champagne, I wasn’t old enough to be aware (plus the TV wasn’t as national in coverage as it is today).

    I’m trying to remember if any juvenile colt was as brilliant start-to-finish and I can’t come up with a single one off the top of my head.

    LANDALUCE was sooo electric…it’s a shame she died so soon. That would be the only other brilliant juvenile run in a stakes race I can remember being remotely close to UNCLE MO’s dominant performance.

    I’ll have a post up about him and the other juveniles soon. I’d love to read your feedback.

    As for GIO PONTI, he was amazing considering Ramon never even cocked his stick. This is his best game and I believe he’ll go in the Mile off this effort. Clement can’t be afraid of anyone but GOLDIKOVA so the Mile is a no-brainer to me. I also believe that if the turf is “good” or worse, the stamina he’s built up running in the marathons will serve him well.

    That said, GIO PONTI ran down a short COURAGEOUS CAT who I believe would have powered away if he’d had one prep race coming into this effort. COURAGEOUS CAT gave GOLDIKOVA fits last year in very fast time. I love his tactical advantage over the likes of GOLDIKOVA, GIO PONTI, PACO BOY, and COURT VISION. However, I believe ‘CAT’s chances go way down on anything worse than a “firm” turf course.

    GOLDIKOVA is the champ and in winning form, so she’s still the top choice. Her finishing kick is really sensational when she’s right…it seems Freddie Head has her at concert pitch for a threepeat in the Mile. However, I believe COURAGEOUS CAT will be tremendous value off the losing effort that should move him way up on the big day. Reverse of the ’09 Mile exacta? Or, does GOLDIKOVA set the table for a huge ladies’ day on Day 2 culminating with ZENYATTA winning the Classic???

    What a game! I firmly believe this will be a Breeders’ Cup weekend for the ages!!!

    • I agree Rob, it was without a doubt the most impressive juvenile performance I have ever witnessed since I began following racing.

      I was surprised I didn’t hear more support for Gio Ponti cutting back in distance to the mile but I loved the angle and he certainly came through in a big way.
      Great take on Courageous Cat, he looked like he was going to kick away at the top of the stretch in the Turf Mile but just ran out of steam. You are probably right, he should be coming into the Breeders’ Cup as sharp as a razor but I still like both Goldikova and Gio Ponti more right now. I’m really curious to see which of the Euro’s come over and how they settle in, that will be a huge factor in the Mile this year.

      Agreed! The Breeders’ Cup is going to be incredible! I personally think the females are just as strong as the males this year. The Ladies Classic (I like Distaff much better!) should be terrific with Blind Luck and Havre de Grace facing off again as well as Life At Ten. I would have loved to see Blind Luck try the Classic. She seems like the kind of filly that would handle the males well.

      Thanks for stopping by Rob!

  2. LDP said

    Gio and Proviso both looked great, as did Mo. His low beyer gets on my nerves and baffles me, I thought a beyer at least equal to his maiden would’ve been the lowest. Personally, based on my own calculations I would’ve given a 104 or something right around that area. Just because Mountain Town ran a horrible 61 last time out does not mean he cannot jump up, 2yr olds normally do when it comes to overnight talent spurts. If he comes back to win, then some real skeptism over the 94 Mo got will come. I love how, even off of such hot fractions he can still kick away so enthusiastically. 24 seconds flat for his final quarter outdoes AZ by a whole second and Tizway by .7 seconds. If he can improve as he matures into a three year old he might just give Pletcher his second derby winner in consecutive years.

    Gio’s win was just so easy. I can’t imagine that he can’t go quicker if he needs too. I agree with Amateur, that all those marathons he’s been running will only help. It was the reason I thought he would do well cutting back this last start.

    • Uncle Mo’s Beyer figure was most definitely underrated, he was so much better than the 94 that he received. I really look forward to seeing him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If he moves forward again it will really bring down the house.

      • Brian and Dani,

        The 94, if correct, wasn’t too shabby. It indicates that he may have bounced, but not that far off his maiden win, and could move back to his debut figure in the Juvenile if he’s the quality of animal we think he is.

        I put his race equal to the maiden win. The final 1/4 mile, faster than the 3rd 1/4 fraction and excellent considering his opening fractions, was the thing that stood out to me. The Beyers don’t consider internal splits, only final times.

        His Ragozin Sheets debut figure was 2 1/2 I read at Thoroughbred Times. That figure is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby. I have to believe he regressed on those figures. The degree of regression on the sheets, which take into account much more than just raw time/track variant like Beyers do, will be the best predictor of UNCLE MO’s Juvenile performance.

        I sure hope he’s as special as SEATTLE SLEW was. If you both get the chance, check out my post on ‘MO and ‘SLEW (http://amateurcapper.blogspot.com/2010/10/breeders-cup-notebook-with-repole-yell.html).

        Enjoy the weekend races…BRIDGETOWN, in an acid test in the Nearctic at Woodbine, is the one I’m watching most. He’s my BC Turf Sprint favorite.

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