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Weekend Stakes Review: Gio Ponti Goes Back-to-Back at Keeneland

A look back on some of the action from this past weekend:

-Does anybody else feel like Gio Ponti is a much better at a mile on the turf that he is going longer? Somewhat similar to his race last year at Keeneland, Gio Ponti looked for all intents and purposes to have been beaten in Saturday's Shadwell Turf Mile, only to find another gear inside the final furlong that allowed him to power to the front at the wire. 

With Goldikova (IRE) running at a form that is less then her absolute best this season, Gio Ponti will have a big chance to snag an elusive Breeders' Cup win in four weeks.

-Union Rags looked awfully good winning the Champagne on Saturday, although I thought the trouble he encountered in the stretch was a little more exaggerated than most post-race reviews are describing.  Of the two juvenile stakes at Belmont on Saturday, I liked the performance of My Miss Aurelia in the Frizette the best.

Against a field loaded with speed (even though it was a small field), My Miss Aurelia was able to simply run her rivals into the ground on her way to a one mile win in a solid final time of 1:35.22.  That's a couple of clicks faster than the 1:35.55 that Union Rags ran in the Champagne.

-A couple of fringe Breeders' Cup Classic contenders ran in Saturday's Hawthorne Gold Cup with disappointing results.  Giant Oak could only muster a distant 5th place finish to winner Headache, and Rule, the 5/2 betting favorite when the gates opened, finished 7th of ten.  I'm not sure how much of an impact this race will have on the Classic, if any.

-I chalked up Zoffany's (IRE) bad race in Deauville to the soft going over the course, but after he finished last in the Shadwell Turf Mile it looks like that wasn't a going issue, but a serious form decline from earlier this year.  To say he threw in a clunker at Keeneland is an understatement; he didn't run a lick.

-Over in England, favorite Power was upset by 20/1 longshot Parish Hall in the Group 1 Dewhurst at Newmarket.  The Dewhurst is a Win and You're In for the Juvenile Turf, but we'll have to wait and see whether Parish Hall, or any of the runners in this race, decide to come to Churchill in four weeks.

Parish hass is by Teofilo (IRE), out of a Montjeu (IRE) mare (Halla Siamsa (IRE)).

-Aruna successfully made the transition from turf to Polytrack in winning Sunday's Juddmonte Spinster.  The win gets her into the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, but I think this filly is really caught between a rock and a hard place.  She could try dirt for the first time in her career in the Ladies' Classic due to the distance fitting her (9 furlongs).  Or she could go back to the turf (where she has been quite successful) but would be running at a distance outside of her comfort zone.  Tough call.

A nice of a filly as Aruna is, I don't know that I see her making a big impact at the Breeders' Cup. 

-Bob Baffert is still going to consider The Factor for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but he's going to have to hope for a couple of things if his colt is going to be successful at Churchill. First, avoid a ridiculous speed duel like the one he caught in the Ancient Title.  Second, get a track where speed is holding.

I doubt they can do anything to rate The Factor, and they shouldn't since his natural speed is his biggest asset. But they are going to have to find a way to avoid him churning out fractions of 21.27 and 43.80 over the first half-mile, cause those are just suicidal.  However, if you take a look at the results charts from Santa Anita on Saturday, you'll see a lot of sub :22 second opening quarter miles.  Two-year-old maidens went 21.70 and 44.41 through a half mile in the first race on the day, while Cal-bred maiden Johnny Be Mile (the only gate-to-wire winner on the dirt on Saturday) clicked off opening splits of 21.97 and 44.88.

The track was definitely lightning fast and the speed that set those fractions, whether dueling or clear, failed to hold on. So I think we could suggest that not only was Santa Anita really fast on Saturday, but that it wasn't kind to speed. I think that, at a minimum, helps to alleviate a bit of the worry from The Factor's poor result.

-The Jamaica Handicap at Belmont is still considered a Grade 1 race but it's really a Grade 1 in name only.  A field made up of horses like Brilliant Speed and Wilkinson were beaten by a horse named Western Aristocrat, a European shipper that has never won a group race in England and had recently finished 7th in the Group 3 Strensall Stakes at York.  There was nothing Grade 1 about the race or the result.

-Next weekend is the inaugural British Champions Day at Ascot.  I'll have a preview of that event in the coming days.