Belmont Park and Santa Anita Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: 9/30/17

We’re just five weeks away from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup, and while many trainers have opted to rest their stars ahead of the event, Saturday’s cards at Belmont and Santa Anita are packed with great racing and prime wagering opportunities. I’ve got a pair of multi-race exotics tickets at each track, and the likely payoffs are such that, even if only one hits, we’ll likely still be looking at a winning day.

One note before we kick off the analysis: I’ve set up a feedback survey for those who visit the site. Simply put, I want to know more about what you expect from a content perspective, as well as what you like/don’t like and your thoughts on a few additional bells and whistles I’m thinking about adding. It’s my goal to turn this site into a resource for players, and hopefully, I’ve at least taken steps towards that point. The survey is here, and it only takes a few minutes. If you have the time to fill it out, I’d appreciate it greatly.

Now, let’s get down to business!

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BELMONT PARK

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 2,7
R2: 4,6,9
R3: 2,4
R4: 2,3,5,7,8
R5: 3

60 Bets, $30

We’ll kick things off with a real puzzler. The opener is a $40,000 maiden claimer, and many of these horses just haven’t done much running. #2 VALDOCCO ran well a few times earlier this year against straight maidens, but that was at Gulfstream, and he’s been away a long time. I used him, but my top pick is #7 RIVER DEEP, who’s shown speed against better horses in the past and attracts John Velazquez. I’m taking a stand against #5 WHY GOD, who may go off lower than his 7/2 morning line due to his connections. Yes, this trainer/jockey combination merits respect, but the workouts at Monmouth are slow, the pedigree indicates that he wants much longer than seven furlongs, and (per DRF Formulator) Chad Brown is 0-for-his last-11 (and 1-for-his-last-21) with first-time starters in maiden claimers.

The second race is a turf sprint, and this is another race where you can go in many different directions. I can’t tell you who’ll be favored, but my top selection is #6 ABBOT, whose lone bad races on turf have come both directly before and directly after a one-year layoff. Joel Rosario hops aboard, and he’s ridden very well to this point in the meet. I’ll also use #4 LONE TRADER, who simply went too far last time out, and #9 SALLISAW, who is bred up and down for turf and has been gelded ahead of his return for a barn that’s done excellent work in turf sprints of late.

I’m using two of the logical contenders in the third race. Both #2 BIBLICAL and #4 ROAD TO MEATH debuted at Saratoga and could improve at second asking for top-notch barns. If I were to use another in here, it would probably be #8 FIRST WARRIOR. He’s bred to be a good one, has worked well since his debut (which he may have needed), and the odds disparity between this one and stablemate #6 AVERY ISLAND will likely be bigger than it should. However, while I may throw that one into a few vertical exotics wagers, I’ll stick with the first two on my Pick Five ticket.

The fourth is a fun turf race, and while I’m using the likely favorite (#3 FUNTASTIC), I didn’t think he was anywhere close to a lock. He did have trouble in his first start against winners, but I didn’t think he beat much two back. I’m most intrigued by the two outside horses. #8 LUNAIRE actually beat Funtastic last time out and has run up against horses like Bricks and Mortar and Frostmourne. He’s my top pick, and I also think you can make a real case for #7 HELLO HOLIDAY, who returns to his favorite turf course and gets Luis Saez. Finally, #2 VIA EGNATIA’s last race is a complete throw-out (he’s a turf horse, not a dirt horse, and running into eventual Allen Jerkens runner-up Takaful didn’t help), and #5 SOGLIO has been gelded since his last start and is another with significant back class.

We’ll finish with a fifth-race single, and probably the shortest price in the sequence. That’s #3 FAVORABLE OUTCOME, who has yet to run a bad race on dirt. He hasn’t been seen since a win in the Grade 2 Swale in February, but he’s been working very well ahead of his return, and anywhere close to his prior dirt efforts would likely beat this group.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 1,4,6
R8: 5,7,8
R9: 1
R10: 1,3,4,5,6,8,9,10

72 Bets, $36

Yes, I’m singling Elate in the Grade 1 Beldame, but I think this ticket could still pay handsomely. A large reason for that comes in the first leg, the Grade 1 Vosburgh, where I’ll first focus on the two horses I’m NOT using.

#2 EL DEAL made me look good with a runaway win in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. He’s 3-for-3 since going to the Jorge Navarro barn, and he’s yet to really be tested. However, he’s lining up against plenty of horses with top-end early zip. #3 GREEN GRATTO, #4 TAKAFUL, and possibly #5 MR. CROW will make sure El Deal doesn’t get an easy lead. At his likely short price, given his one-dimensional running style and opposition he’ll face out of the gate, I have to try to beat him. Meanwhile, Mr. Crow takes a huge step up after two runaway wins at Saratoga. Yes, his two 100+ Beyer Speed Figures are big, but this is a sizable test for a horse with just three starts under his belt. Additionally, who, precisely, has he beaten in his wins, and what excuse did he have in his debut?

I’m three-deep here, and while I’ll use Takaful (who figures to benefit from a return to six furlongs), my top pick is #1 STALLWALKIN’ DUDE. He was way too close to the pace in the Forego, and that was just 15 days after a winning effort in an overnight stakes. He ran two strong races at Belmont earlier this year and should get an ideal setup. Another candidate for an ideal setup is #6 CELTIC CHAOS, who I’m throwing on my ticket in case multiple riders of speed horses get crazy and duel each other into submission. This horse may not appear good enough on speed figures, but if any horse benefits from the likely race shape, it’s this deep closer, and I have to have him on my ticket.

The second leg is the Grade 3 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds on the turf. #5 VOTING CONTROL was ultra-impressive in his debut win, which came earlier this meet. Chad Brown’s horses tend to improve at second asking, and such a step forward would make him the one to beat. However, I’m also keen on #8 EVALUATOR, who lost all chance in the With Anticipation following a horrible start, and solely for pace reasons, I’m also using #7 LOOKING READY. He flopped at Finger Lakes, and that’s concerning, but his pedigree is all-turf (by More Than Ready, out of a Giant’s Causeway mare), and he figures to be the main speed here. If he gets comfortable under Irad Ortiz, he may be the one they have to run down turning for home.

As mentioned, #1 ELATE is a single for me in the Grade 1 Beldame. She’s the typical Bill Mott filly that gets better and better as the year goes along, and her win in the Alabama was as impressive as any East Coast-based female horse has turned in this year. She’s helped in this spot, of course, by the lack of a star older filly or mare to run against her. #5 MONEY’SONCHARLOTTE has been managed brilliantly this year by Kelly Breen, but she’s been beating up on far lesser company. She’ll likely get her Grade 1 placing here, and a cold 1-5 exacta may not be a bad play, but I can’t see her beating Elate without monumental improvement.

We finish off the card with the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and as you can see by my ticket, I think this race could go MANY different directions. I used all but three horses (two of which are Naipaul Chatterpaul-trained longshots, with the other being #7 CHANNEL MAKER, who takes a big step up after two races in the Canadian Triple Crown). #3 OSCAR PERFORMANCE could establish himself as a real Eclipse Award candidate with a win over older horses, but this distance is new to him, and this is a tough field. Many horses exit either the Arlington Million (won by #5 BEACH PATROL) or the Sword Dancer (won by #4 SADLER’S JOY), and don’t sleep on #10 THE GREY GATSBY, who makes his North American debut in search of firm ground for a trainer that can win with a European shipper. It’s a fascinating race, and you’ll likely get a square price on whichever horse you like. Hopefully, we’ll be alive to a nice score!

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SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: ALL
R2: 2
R3: 6,10
R4: 1,5,8,11
R5: 4

96 Bets, $48

If you want to take my last four races and punch the early Pick Four instead, I get it. That’s a $4 wager for a 50-cent increment, and you can play it multiple times for a reasonable investment. However, given the 15% takeout on the Pick Five and the high likelihood of a big price in the first race, this is the ticket I’m putting out.

I do not have a clue in the Saturday opener. This is a maiden race for 2-year-olds going long on the turf, and many of these horses are stepping onto the lawn for the first time. #10 PUBILIUS SYRUS is the morning line favorite and could win, but the last-out stakes race set up perfectly for him, and he did not have an excuse two back against similar company. With so many horses that boast great turf pedigrees, I’m punching the “ALL” button, using all 12 horses, and hoping we get a bomb home (along with, perhaps, a scratch or two to cut down on the cost of the ticket!).

The second race features a horse I’ve got some conviction about. I’m of the belief that #2 SUPREME VENTURE was one of many Peter Miller horses that just did not like Del Mar. Additionally, he was between horses most of the way, which isn’t an easy thing for a fairly-inexperienced horse to deal with. His race here two back against much better was quite good, as was his debut, which came before a long layoff (and yes, his first race back after that is a throw-out). #7 BOLSTER is favored after a romp last time out, but that was against lesser foes and came over a racetrack playing very kind to early speed. I’ll take a stand with Supreme Venture.

The third is another 2-year-old race, and I’ll use the two logical horses. #6 INSTILLED REGARD just missed behind American Pharoah’s little brother in his debut and likely learned a lot from that effort given the slow break. I’m also using #10 MOURINHO, who fetched $625K at auction earlier this year and has been working lights-out for trainer Bob Baffert. If you’re looking for a price underneath, #11 SECULAR NATION may want more ground, but his second dam, Ready’s Gal, was Grade 1-placed as a 2-year-old, and offspring of Distorted Humor can certainly run well at first asking.

The fourth race is probably a second division of the opener, since the conditions are identical. This one was not easy, but I was at least able to narrow it down a little. #1 CHOO CHOO is bred up and down for turf, and certainly not for a sprint at Los Alamitos, so he should improve here. #5 BIG BUZZ and #8 PITCHING have both been chasing Encumbered, a quality turf horse we’ll see later on Saturday in the FrontRunner. Finally, #11 RESTRAINEDVENGEANCE didn’t do anything wrong in his debut, which came in a turf sprint. Val Brinkerhoff has gotten this one recently, and she does great work with new acquisitions. Per DRF Formulator, she’s 6-for-27 with such horses over the past three years (22%), with six additional in-the-money finishes (44%) and a solid ROI ($2.69).

We’ll finish this sequence with a single in Santa Anita’s first Grade 1 of the day. This is the Zenyatta, and I’m giving #4 PARADISE WOODS one more shot. She was awful in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at 6/5, and she lost all chance at the break in her return at Del Mar last month. However, she’s fired nothing but bullets since coming back to Santa Anita, and much like with Elate in the Beldame, there aren’t any heavy hitters lining up against her. #1 FAITHFULLY does merit respect, but on Paradise Woods’s best day, I don’t think she can run with her.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,4,8
R9: 7,8,10
R10: 5,6,8
R11: 3,5,11

81 Bets, $40.50

This is an all-stakes Pick Four with plenty of potential to pay big. I’m three-deep in each leg, and while some of the likely favorites merit respect, I certainly don’t think any are standouts to be afraid to go against.

The Grade 1 FrontRunner kicks this sequence off, and I’m not getting cute. #4 BOLT D’ORO may be the best 2-year-old male in the country, and he’s bred to love this route. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because he had a picture-perfect trip rating well behind a hot pace in the Del Mar Futurity. #1 ZATTER ran a great race being so close to that pace, so I have to use him here, and I’m also using the other Bob Baffert trainee, #8 SOLOMINI. He and the runner-up were well clear of the rest of the field in his debut, and he’s bred up and down to go as long as possible.

The second leg is the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive, and there appears to be a metric ton of early speed signed on. As such, I want closers, and all three horses I used should be flying late. #10 GOODYEARFORROSES has been very good this season and has enough tactical speed to get first run turning for home. She’s probably the horse to beat, but both #7 BEAU RECALL and #8 DECKED OUT stand to benefit from the likely race shape. The former just missed in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, and that result may give us some value here (she’s 8-1 ML, but would probably be considerably shorter had she gotten her nose down). Meanwhile, Decked Out may want more give in the ground than she’ll get, but she likely needed her last-out effort and returns to the site of her greatest triumph, which came in the Grade 1 American Oaks.

The third leg is the Grade 1 Awesome Again. #8 CUPID may be the shortest price in this sequence, and he’s probably the one to beat. Having said that, Cupid’s trainer, Bob Baffert, also saddles #6 MUBTAAHIJ, who has been working very well of late. That’s a curious entry, so I’m not as scared of Cupid as I would’ve been had Baffert solely entered him. Additionally, #5 BREAKING LUCKY hasn’t won in a while, but he’s had the bad luck of chasing Gun Runner in each of his last two starts. With all due respect to Cupid, this may be a softer spot, and given the way he’s been training at Woodbine, I think he’s got a big shot beneath Mike Smith.

The payoff leg is the Unzip Me, and this may be the toughest race of the sequence. I took the approach of preferring horses with success on the downhill turf course, and I also threw in one returning to the turf. #3 KENDA and #5 STORM THE HILL both exit the Del Mar Oaks, but both have also run well at this unique configuration in the past and could improve coming back to it. Also, #11 MISS SOUTHERN MISS’s layoff concerns me, but her lone prior turf effort was too good to ignore. She beat some talented fillies in last year’s Surfer Girl, and there should be plenty of speed for her to rate off of in here before being asked for her late kick. Kent Desormeaux riding for his brother is another good sign.

A Letter to Zenyatta and Ziconic Fans, Plus Santa Anita Analysis for 5/27/17

Dear Zenyatta/Ziconic Fans,

There’s something you should know before reading the rest of this letter, and, by extension, my analysis into Saturday’s card at Santa Anita. I am NOT a Zenyatta hater.

I have a deep respect for what the great mare was able to do. I was among the Hall of Fame voters that put her and fellow legendary female Rachel Alexandra in on the very first ballot. Furthermore, in an age where horse racing is in desperate need of stars, few are hoping harder that Zenyatta’s offspring can run than I am.

Ziconic is no bum, and part of his inability to win one yet hasn’t been his fault. He ran into eventual multiple graded stakes winner Dalmore twice in early-2016, and then, in his fourth lifetime start, he was beaten into submission by a little-known gray horse named Arrogate, who would later emerge as the top dirt horse in the world.

However, this is where I urge you all to breathe very deeply, because here’s where the gambler in me comes out.

It is my belief that any money wagered on Ziconic to win Saturday’s finale at Santa Anita…is dumb money.

(pausing to allow objects to be thrown in my general direction)

OK, done now? Good.

Anyway, here’s my logic. Ziconic’s fatal flaw throughout his career has been an inability to break well from the starting gate. In his six starts, he’s been closer than eight lengths behind at the first point of call just once. With that in mind, the rail draw is a huge problem. Not only will Ziconic likely concede considerable ground from the word “go” in Saturday’s finale, but he’ll probably have to check back sharply while doing so. Furthermore, the race itself has positively ZERO known early pace to speak of (more on this later). If you subscribe to the notion that pace makes the race, Ziconic is up against it, and would be even with a better post position.

Consider all of these facts, and then consider Ziconic’s likely price at the betting windows. A 3-1 morning line is conservative, given the Zenyatta fans that follow the horse and will bet with their hearts at the windows. My guess is that Ziconic goes off somewhere between 8/5 and 2-1, and I simply cannot endorse a win bet on a slow-breaking closer in a paceless race contested on a surface that is often very kind to early speed at that short of a mutuel.

I had a Twitter follower comment once that wagering on Ziconic was akin to placing flowers on the Zenyatta statue in the paddock at Santa Anita. I’m not heartless. I get that argument. However, as a horseplayer, I wake up every day in search of the elusive property known as value. When Ziconic (and before him, Cozmic One) is hammered at the windows to the point of being a monstrous underlay, value exists with the rest of the field.

If Ziconic blooms at a later age and turns into a star, nobody will be happier than yours truly. I work in social media, after all, and that story would play REALLY well. With that in mind, he’ll likely be bet like he towers over the field he faces Saturday. The facts show that he doesn’t.

Best wishes,
Andrew

(braces for a social media backlash of epic proportions)

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1, Santa Anita

R1: 3,6
R2: 2,4,6,7,8,10
R3: 6
R4: 2,4
R5: 1,6

48 bets, $24

This Pick Five ticket (which also includes the skeleton of a $12 early Pick Four ticket that begins in the second race) is built around the singling of Stormy Liberal in the Grade 3 Daytona. The Peter Miller trainee has four wins and two seconds in his last six starts, and has won three in a row going down the hill. The far outside post is a huge plus, and I think he’ll be tough to beat in that short field.

The other legs, though, are not easy. If One I’m Running To channels his 2-year-old form, he likely wins the opener comfortably, but coming off a long layoff and running for a $12,500 tag after thumping $50,000 maiden claimers last fall is a big red flag. As such, I also used Bitte, whose last race is a throwout given his slow start. A repeat of his races two and three back would make him a major player.

The second race is a mess, so I spread there before singling Stormy Liberal in the third leg (if you’ve got the budget to hit the “ALL” button, go ahead; I opted to keep the cost of the ticket down a bit). I settled on only using two horses in the fourth. Honor and Courage may be the only speed horse in the race, while Acker was a solid second in his debut and has the pedigree to love a two-turn route of ground. Finally, I was tempted to single Lady Eli in the Grade 1 Gamely, but I also had to use Avenge, who may be the race’s lone early speed horse. The latter has been working well, and all signs point to a big performance.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6, Santa Anita

R6: 3,4,8,9
R7: 3,4,8,9
R8: 1,2
R9: 5,10

64 bets, $32

Given the guaranteed pool and the wide-open fields, this is a Pick Four that could pay very generously. I spread in the first two races, and several horses I used are fairly big prices on the morning line.

The sixth is an optional claimer that looks much more like a stakes race. Taman Guard seems like the horse to beat, and when he’s on his game, he’s very good. However, he hasn’t run in nine months, and the post position isn’t great, so I added some more coverage. Texas Two Step should improve with the re-addition of blinkers, Boy Howdy’s two races this season for red-hot trainer Bill Spawr have been solid, and don’t overlook Pioneerof the West. He’s 20-1 on the line, and while he comes in off a long layoff, his best race would be competitive in this spot. Vladimir Cerin can win with horses coming in off this kind of a freshening, and he’d be a knockout horse.

I’m using the same numbers in the second leg, the Grade 2 Monrovia. Illuminant and Enola Gray merit respect, but Watch This Cat gets off the dreaded rail (which hurt her badly last time out against several rivals that also show up here), and Anita Partner has crossed under the wire first on four straight occasions, three of which have come in races contested at this route.

I’m going against Midnight Storm in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. There seems to be a lot of early speed signed on, and 10 furlongs may be just a hair further than he wants to go. American Freedom makes his second start off the layoff for Bob Baffert, while Follow Me Crev is in good form and should get plenty of pace to run at. If Midnight Storm wins, I lose, but if one of those two horses can beat him, many tickets go up in smoke, and I stand to benefit from it.

Finally, we come to the nightcap. This is the Ziconic race, and I’ll try to beat him with two horses, one of which is his stablemate. Oregon seems like the horse to beat based on his last-out effort. He didn’t get a great trip that day, but rallied to finish second in his first start around two turns. His race down the hill two back suggests he may have a bit more tactical speed than he showed in his most recent outing, and I also like the May 20th workout, which was sixth-fastest of 67 at the distance that morning. I’m also going to use Ample Sufficiency, who may very well be the speed in this race by default. He was 0-for-7 overseas, but he was beaten just a length in a Group 2 as a 2-year-old, and he gets Lasix for the first time in his U.S. debut. If Tyler Baze is aggressive out of the gate, this newcomer could lead them a long way.

The Hall of Fame Case of Gio Ponti

I have an annual ballot for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. It’s one of the biggest honors that anyone covering racing can receive, and voting is a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

This year, I voted for all four of the finalists who will be enshrined in Saratoga Springs this summer. That list includes three-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova and jockeys Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza, and Garrett Gomez.

One finalist who did not make my ballot was Gio Ponti, one of the top turf horses in the U.S. from 2009 through 2011. Simply put, I just didn’t think Gio Ponti was a Hall of Famer. This was in stark contrast to the views of several people I respect, including TVG’s Darin Zoccali, TwinSpires’s Ed DeRosa, fellow Saratogian alum Will Springstead, and Horse Racing Nation’s Brian Zipse, who didn’t vote for Gio Ponti but saw him as a very tough cut from his eventual ballot.

Due to this disagreement, I’ve gotten in several very animated discussions about the topic, and the only way I know how to resolve this is by writing way, way, way too many words about it. As such, here we are, debating the Hall of Fame merits of Gio Ponti through a multiple-step process. As a heads-up, if it turns out that this winds up being a popular piece, I have no problem analyzing the cases of other finalists and other horses, trainers, or jockeys who will be up for election in the next few years, so let me know what you think.

WHY VOTE FOR GIO PONTI?

Gio Ponti’s main strength is his longevity. He won stakes races in five consecutive seasons, competed in four Breeders’ Cup events, and captured seven Grade 1 races. He raced 29 times, and finished first or second on 22 occasions while racking up more than $6.1 million in earnings, much of which came following a pair of second-place finishes in Breeders’ Cup races (the 2009 Classic and the 2010 Mile). Those races were won by Hall of Famers Zenyatta and Goldikova.

WHY VOTE AGAINST GIO PONTI?

He failed to win a single Breeders’ Cup race despite multiple opportunities, and he came along during a time where the American turf division was, to put it mildly, extremely weak. Additionally, while he was voted Champion Grass Horse in 2010, that honor came after a campaign where he won just two races from seven starts, and he only won once in six 2011 starts to boot. What kind of an indictment is it on his competition when the horse deemed America’s best on turf lost 10 of his final 13 races?

Admittedly, there’s no shame in running second to Zenyatta and Goldikova, or even Cape Blanco, who dusted him a few times in 2011 and could have been Horse of the Year had an injury not robbed him of a chance to compete in the Breeders’ Cup. However, looks at his career record also reveal losses to forgettable horses like Mission Approved, Debussy, Winchester, and Karelian. This isn’t a case of a horse like Alydar or Easy Goer, where repeated losses to Hall of Famers were soothed by dominant wins over most of their peers. Gio Ponti had a stellar 2009 season (one that included four straight Grade 1 wins at three different tracks), but voters held their noses when giving him the 2010 award, and his 2011 campaign was nothing to write home about.

HISTORICAL COMPARISONS

In debating Gio Ponti’s merits, I actually had one Gio Ponti supporter say the words, “Stats are for losers.” I could crack wise about how said supporter clearly went to the Donald Trump School of Debate, but instead, I’m going to use Gio Ponti’s resume as a comparison point for other horses, so as to illustrate the validity of his Hall of Fame candidacy. Admittedly, there are times where stats don’t tell the full story of what a horse accomplished, but many times, a blind comparison of accomplishments can shine a brighter light onto a given situation such as this one.

Gio Ponti
Career Record: 29-12-10-1
Earnings: $6,169,800
Graded Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): 10 (Seven)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): Zero (Four)

Horse A
Career Record: 31-23-2-0
Earnings: $7,552,920
Graded Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): 19 (11)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): Two (Three)

Horse B
Career Record: 25-14-8-0
Earnings: $2,515,289
Graded Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): 10 (Three)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): Two (Three)

Horse C
Career Record: 30-14-7-2
Earnings: $2,293,384
Graded Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): 10 (Two)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): One (Five)

Horse D
Career Record: 29-13-6-4
Earnings: $2,321,751
Graded Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): Nine (Three)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): One (Five)

For purposes of this comparison, I deliberately chose horses that fit Gio Ponti’s career profile. Namely, they raced for sustained periods of time, mainly in graded stakes company, and they appeared in multiple Breeders’ Cup events not named the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Gio Ponti ran second in that race in 2009 when that race was run over a synthetic surface, but comparing him to horses that ran in that race multiple times wouldn’t be fair to him.

Horse A, as most of you probably figured out, is Wise Dan. On credentials, Wise Dan towers over the rest of these horses, including Gio Ponti. Naysayers will counter that he doubles as the main horse of substance that Gio Ponti beat. That matchup came in the 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. However, Wise Dan wasn’t quite WISE DAN yet. From 2012 through 2014, Wise Dan lost twice in 17 races, a stretch that included back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Mile wins and six Eclipse Awards. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he comes up for election, and it’s not because of his pre-2012 form.

Horse B is Lure. Lure was arguably the top turf miler of the 1990’s, and while his earnings don’t stack up with those of Wise Dan or Gio Ponti, it must be pointed out that he simply wasn’t running for those kinds of purses during his racing career. Additionally, some of the non-Grade 1 races he won would absolutely be considered Grade 1 races today. For these reasons, Lure had to wait nearly two decades to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame (as much as I love the Hall of Fame and everything it stands for, Lure probably should’ve gone in sooner).

Horse C is Kona Gold. Kona Gold was a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year, and like Gio Ponti, he didn’t get in. Kona Gold is similar to Lure in that he was a victim of the time period in which he ran. Many sprint races that are considered Grade 1 events now weren’t given that billing or the appropriate purse money during Kona Gold’s heyday, and he suffered for that. A scan of his career, though, also reveals some parallels to Gio Ponti. Kona Gold also had one dominant campaign, which came in 2000 when he won five of six starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Like Gio Ponti, he stayed on for several seasons after that, running good races but none that quite channeled the form he showed in his best year. I don’t see a camp championing Kona Gold’s candidacy, and certainly not a camp that’s done so as loudly as the one backing Gio Ponti!

Horse D is, I feel, the most damning comparison with regard to Gio Ponti’s Hall of Fame candidacy. This is Obviously, winner of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. I want to stress that I am not saying that Obviously is a better horse than Gio Ponti, so please, don’t twist my words around. However, look at the accomplishments side-by-side. Does Gio Ponti’s dwarf Obviously’s? I don’t think it does. Yes, the seven Grade 1 wins are a substantial advantage to Obviously’s three, and the disparity in career earnings is noteworthy. However, Obviously has a Breeders’ Cup win to his credit and was also third behind Wise Dan and Animal Kingdom in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile. That has to count for something.

Gio Ponti is a better horse than Obviously. Is his resume THAT much better? I don’t think so, and I feel like that’s a necessary acid test.

THE VERDICT

Gio Ponti was a fun horse to root for. Any horse that finishes in the top two in 22 of 29 career starts deserves consideration for racing’s highest honor, and he’s certainly a worthy finalist.

However, the quality of horses Gio Ponti ran against must be considered. If he had dominated those horses and fell only to the likes of Zenyatta and Goldikova, I would be much more inclined to vote for him. However, with the exception of one dominant campaign, he wasn’t the caliber of horse that deserves enshrinement amongst the greatest in the history of the sport. He was the best of a very bad group in 2010, and he won just once in 2011. It takes more than one great season to put a horse in the Hall of Fame.

VERDICT: NOT A HALL OF FAMER