Two-Time Turf Champion Gio Ponti, Defending Champ General Quarters Head Nominees to 25th Woodford Reserve Turf Classic

Mar 31, 2011 John Asher

Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti, America’s champion turf horse in 2009-10, tops a roster of 79 older grass stars made eligible during the early nomination phase to compete in the silver anniversary renewal of Churchill Downs’ $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) on Kentucky Derby Day, May 7.

The nomination total is two fewer than the 81 Thoroughbreds nominated to the 2010 renewal of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic won by owner-trainer Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters.  McCarthy’s 5-year-old veteran is eligible to defend his narrow Woodford Reserve victory over Grade I winner Court Vision and Wildenstein Stable’s 2011 nominee Loup Breton (Ire) in a blanket finish that saw its first three horses separated by only a neck.

The 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds and up is traditionally run immediately prior to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and is one of three Grade I stakes events on Derby Day racing program that includes six stakes races with total purses of $3.4 million.  The race will be televised live nationally on NBC Sports.

A fee of $100 was required to nominate a horse to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic during the early phase, which closed on Feb. 19.  A late nomination period, which requires a $1,000 nomination fee, will close on Wednesday, April 13.  Supplemental nominations may be made at the time of entry for a fee of $25,000.  The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is limited to 14 starters.

The sponsor of the Turf Classic, Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is bottled by the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky., and is a product of Brown-Forman Corp. of Louisville, Ky.  Woodford Reserve is the fastest growing Small Batch Bourbon among brands that sell more than 1,000 cases on an annual basis, and the super-premium bourbon is now the second largest selling Small Batch Bourbon brand in the market.  It is the “Official Bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic has attracted many of America’s most accomplished grass stars since reigning Eclipse Award turf champion Manila won its first running beneath Churchill Downs’ historic Twin Spires in 1987.  Manila had won the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) in 1986, defeating such luminaries as Theatrical, Estrapade and European star Dancing Brave in that effort. Other American turf champions that have competed in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Paradise Creek, winner of the Turf Classic during his 1994 championship campaign, and 1992 Eclipse Award turf champion Sky Classic, runner-up to Cudas in that year’s Turf Classic renewal.  Einstein won the 2008-09 runnings of the race and is the only two-time Woodford Reserve Turf Classic winner in its 24-year history.  The versatile Brazilian-bred son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck was a finalist for the Eclipse Award for top older male in each of those years and a finalist for turf champion in 2008.

The Christophe Clement-trained Gio Ponti is a 6-year-old son of Tale of the Cat who has been one of the outstanding stars of American racing over the past three seasons.  Along with his Eclipse Award honors the past two years as the nation’s top turf horse, Gio Ponti was also named champion older male in 2009 when he finished second to champion mare Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) run over a synthetic surface at Santa Anita.  He has a record of 11-8-0 in 23 career starts with earnings of $5,037,800.

Gio Ponti completed his 2010 campaign at Churchill Downs with a late-running second-place finish to the brilliant French mare Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) – the European champion’s record third consecutive victory in that race.  His year also included Grade I victories in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and the Man o’ War at Belmont Park, and a runner-up finish to Debussy in the Arlington Million (GI).  A victory in the latter was one of the highlights of his dual championship season in 2009 that also included Grade I wins in the Manhattan and Man o’ War.  Clement’s star won the Virginia Derby (GII) and Hill Prince (GII) as a 3-year-old in 2008.

The 2010 campaign of Woodford Reserve Turf Classic winner General Quarters was cut short by injury, but the lone horse in McCarthy’s Churchill Downs-based stable is being prepared to run in 2011.  The one-time claiming horse also finished a good third in 2010 to eventual champion older male and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame on traditional dirt in Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and won the 2009 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack course.  His record in 21 career races stands at 4-7-2 with earnings of $1,165,260.

Another nominee with strong Churchill Downs ties is Donegal Racing’s Paddy O’Prado, whose 3-year-old campaign included a third-place finish behind Super Saver in the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and turf wins in Arlington Park’s Secretariat (GI), Colonial Downs’ Virginia Derby (GII) and Colonial Turf Cup (GII), and a runner-up finish to Winchester in Belmont’s Turf Classic Invitational (GI).  The Dale Romans trainee completed the year with a fifth-place run behind Blame and Horse of the Year Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and brings a record of 4-3-3 in 13 races and earnings of $1,601,297 into his 2011 season.

Other high profile nominees to the 25th running of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Clement L. Hirsch (GI) winner Champ Pegasus; The Usual Q.T., winner of the Eddie Read (GI) and Hollywood Derby (GI); Citation Handicap (GI) winner Victor’s Cry; Winchester, winner of Belmont Park’s Grade I Manhattan in 2010 along with his victory in the Turf Classic Invitational; two-time Sword Dancer Invitational (GI) winner Telling; Sidney’s Candy, who won the 2010 Santa Anita Derby (GI) on a synthetic Pro-Ride surface and later won Del Mar’s La Jolla (GII) on grass; Compari, winner of Santa Anita’s Arcadia Handicap (GII); Mac Diarmida (GII) and W.L. McKnight (GII) winner Prince Will I Am; Rahystrada, winner of the 2010 Arlington Handicap (GIII) and 2009 River City (GIII) at Churchill Downs; 2010 River City winner Battle of Hastings; Tropical Turf (GII) winner Twilight Meteor; Yankee Fourtune, winner of Churchill’s 2010 Commonwealth Turf (GIII), and Bowling Green (GII) winner Al Khali.

The nomination list also includes the late-blooming Giant Oak, a versatile 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway who completed his 2010 season for Chicago-based trainer Chris Block with a victory via disqualification in Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap (GI) and opened his 2011 run with a victory in the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.  While the Illinois-bred Giant Oak has raced primarily on traditional dirt during his career, he has a pair of wins in seven turf races that include a victory as a 3-year-old in the Arlington Classic in 2009.  His back-to-back Grade I wins lifted his career record to 5-5-3 in 24 races with earnings of $1,256,077.

Other versatile nominees include Demarcation, winner on traditional dirt surfaces in the recent Mineshaft (GIII) at Fair Grounds and the 2009 Ack Ack (GII) at Churchill Downs and a dead-heat winner on the Louisville track’s turf in the 2008 River City Handicap; Stately Victor, winner of the 2010 Toyota Blue Grass on Polytrack; Exhi, winner of the Coolmore Lexington (GII) on Polytrack for trainer Todd Pletcher; Oaklawn Handicap (GII) winner Duke of Mischief; and Caracortado, who won last year’s Robert B. Lewis (GII) on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride and defeated The Usual Q.T. in the recent Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita.

The nomination list includes two females: Justaroundmidnight (IRE), winner of Gulfstream’s Marshua’s River (GIII), and the 5-year-old Chilean import Belle Watling (CHI).  Both are trained by Patrick Biancone.

Pletcher, a four-time Eclipse Award winner, nominated four horses to the silver anniversary Woodford Reserve Turf Classic to lead all trainers.  Pletcher won the race in 2006 with English Channel.  Mike Maker, Richard Mandella and Claude “Shug” McGauhey III each nominated four horses, while Clement, Mott and Romans nominated three apiece.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey nominated four horses to lead the owners’ category.  Stuart Janney III owns three of the Turf Classic nominees, either alone or in partnership with Phipps Stable.

Al Khali       
Baltimore Bob       
Battle of Hastings (GB)       
Belle Watling (CHI)       
Blues Street       
Bold Hawk       
Cause of Freedom       
Champ Pegasus       
Cheyenne Nation       
Citrus Kid       
Day of Destiny       
Dean's Kitten       
Doctor Peach       
Don Cavallo       
Doubles Partner       
Dubious Miss       
Duke of Mischief       
El Caballo       
Furthest Land       
General Quarters       
Get Stormy       
Giant Oak       
Gio Ponti       
Gleam of Hope       
Guys Reward       
Hidden Glance       
Insider Tip       
Justaroundmidnight (IRE)       
Little Mike       
Lonesome Street       
Loup Breton (IRE)       
Make Music for Me       
Memorial Maniac       
Miami Deco       
Midnight Mischief       
Moryba (BRZ)       
Musketier (GER)       
Olympic Danz (BRZ)       
Olympic Election (BRZ)       
One Nation       
Paddy O'Prado       
Pool Play       
Prince Will I Am       
Rescue Squad       
Sebastian Flyte (GB)       
Sidney's Candy       
Silver Reunion       
Sleepless Knight       
Smart Bid       
Souper Spectacular       
Southern Anthem       
Stately Victor       
Teaks North       
The Usual Q. T.       
Times Gone By       
Twilight Meteor       
Unbridle's Dream       
Victor's Cry       
William's Kitten       
Yankee Fourtune       

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