Castleton Lyons Farm’s versatile Gio Ponti, who earned Eclipse Awards in 2009 that honored him as America’s champion older horse on both turf and dirt, heads a roster of 81 older grass stars nominated to run in the 24th running of the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) on Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday, May 1, at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up is one of six Grade I events on the 2010 stakes schedule at Churchill Downs. The Derby Day fixture attracted 81 nominations for its 2010 renewal, down from the 101 horses made eligible for the race a year ago. The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic has traditionally been run immediately prior to the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and is one of three Grade I races included on a Derby Day racing program that features six graded stakes races with total purses of $3.85 million.
The Christophe Clement-trained Gio Ponti finished second to unbeaten Zenyatta on Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and notched Grade I turf victories in 2009 in the Arlington Million, Man O’ War, Kilroe Mile and Manhattan Handicap. He was upset by fellow Woodford Reserve Turf Classic nominee Karelian in his 2010 debut in the Tampa Bay Breeders’ Cup at Tampa Bay Downs and his career record now stands at 9-5-0 in 17 races with earnings of $3,183,800.
The dual champion is joined on the roster of 2010 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic nominees by Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Furthest Land, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI); Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier, a British-bred veteran trained by Robert Ribaudo who won back-to-back runnings of Saratoga’s Sword Dancer Invitational (GI) in 2007-08; and IEAH Stables, Resolute Group Stables and WinStar Farm’s Court Vision, winner of the 2009 Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) at Keeneland and third to two-time winner Einstein in last year’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Court Vision took the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GI) via disqualification in his only start of 2010.
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic has attracted many of America’s finest turf since reigning Eclipse Award turf champion Manila won its first running beneath the historic Twin Spires of Churchill Downs in 1987. Manila had won the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) the previous year, defeated such luminaries as Theatrical, Estrapade and European star Dancing Brave. 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 winner Sky Classic, runner-up to Cudas in that year’s renewal of the Turf Classic. Stronach Stable’s Einstein won the last two runnings of the race and is the only horse to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic twice. Einstein was a finalist for the Eclipse Award for top older male in each of those years and a finalist for the Eclipse for turf champion in 2008.
Other stars among this year’s 81 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic nominees include Don Van Racing Inc., Michael Nentwig, George Saadeh and Jeffrey Beyer’s The Usual Q. T., winner of the Hollywood Derby (GI) and Oak Tree Derby (GII); Mike House’s Virginia Derby (GII) winner Battle of Hastings (GB); JoAnn and Alex Lieblong’s Telling, upset winner of the 2009 Sword Dancer Invitational (GI); Starlight Partners’ Take the Points, winner of the Secretariat (GI) and Jamaica Handicap (GI); Anstu Stable’s Fair Grounds Handicap (GIII) winner Blues Street; Metropolitan Handicap (GI) winner Bribon (FR); Pam and Marty Wygod’s Canadian Turf Handicap (GIII) winner Courageous Cat; James C. Spence’s El Caballo, winner of the Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap (GIII); Gary and Mary West’s Expansion, winner of the Red Smith Handicap (GII); Elliot Mavorah’s Interpatation, who upset Gio Ponti on soft turf to win the Turf Classic Invitational (GI) at Belmont Park; Jonathan Sheppard’s Arlington Handicap (GIII) winner and Arlington Million runner-up Just As Well; Glen Hill Farm’s Kent (GIII) winner No Inflation; Haras Santa Maria de Araras’ Palladio, winner Woodbine’s Autumn Handicap (GII); and Elkhorn (GII) winner Spice Route.
Names and faces among the nominations that are familiar to Churchill Downs racing fans include Fred Bradley’s homebred Brass Hat, winner of the 2009 Louisville Handicap (GIII); Chrysalis Stables LLC’s 10-year-old veteran Silverfoot, winner of three consecutive runnings of the Louisville Handicap; Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, winner of the 2009 Toyota Blue Grass (GI); Darley Stable’s Florentino (JPN), winner of the 2009 Jefferson Cup (GII); David P. Holloway Racing’s Dubious Miss, runner-up in the Fair Grounds Handicap; and local stakes veteran Yate’s Black Cat.
Another nominee of note is Lael Stables Nicanor, a 4-year-old full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Nicanor’s 3-year-old full brother Lentenor is nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
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. Woodford Reserve is the “Official Bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.