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2022 Gio Ponti Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Dakota Gold, Riot House Give Gargan Strong 1-2 Punch
Dakota Gold (Equi-Photo / Ryan Denver)

2022 Gio Ponti Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Dakota Gold, Riot House Give Gargan Strong 1-2 Punch

Aaron previews the 2022 Gio Ponti Stakes from Aqueduct, then gives his top picks & long shots. Trainer Danny Gargan has a strong 1-2 punch in Dakota Gold and Riot House, but did Aaron pick either horse to win? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Trainer Danny Gargan will saddle a pair of formidable contenders as Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Dakota Gold and Arnmore Thoroughbreds’ Kentucky homebred Riot House take on Saturday’s $135,000 Gio Ponti, a 1 1/16-mile outer turf route for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Dakota Gold, a New York-bred son of Freud, was last seen taking the restricted NYSSS Cab Calloway for eligible New York-sired sophomores in August at Saratoga Race Course. There, he set the pace as the odd-on favorite in a change in tactics from his previous five outings, and led at each point of call to score the one-length victory under regular pilot Irad Ortiz, Jr.

The victory came on the heels of a narrow head loss to Practice Squad in the state-bred Rick Violette going the Gio Ponti distance a month prior where he stalked in third before challenging down the stretch, but was unable to nail his rival at the wire.

“He got a wide trip and kind of got shuffled,” said Gargan. “He kind of plays with horses. If you let him get next to one, he likes to play with them and hang out with them. It takes him a minute to get by a horse. He has to be ridden with confidence, because he’ll run up to a horse and say, ‘Hi,’ and then get by. He should have won two stakes at Saratoga, but he played around a little and it cost him the win.”

Gargan said he wanted Dakota Gold more forwardly placed in the Cab Calloway to avoid another tough loss. 

“I did that because I got mad about the race before when he got beat,” said Gargan. “He’s better if he stalks and he likes a target to run at. But in that race, I didn’t want to get in any trouble and I just told Irad, ‘Don’t play with these horses. He’ll outrun them.’ When you run in open company, he’s not going to be the dominant horse like that, so I think it’s better if he can sit off another horse in third or fourth on Saturday.”

In addition to the Cab Calloway, Dakota Gold also boasts a victory in Belmont Park’s NYSSS Spectacular Bid in June off a six-month layoff where he rallied from third to claim a three-quarter-length victory over Surprise Boss in the seven-furlong sprint.

After the Spectacular Bid, Gargan had laid out a plan for Dakota Gold that was supposed to include a trip to Keeneland for the Bryan Station on October 29 as a springboard to the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on December 3 at Del Mar. Dakota Gold was entered for the Bryan Station, but was placed on the also-eligible list and did not draw in, resulting in his re-route to the Gio Ponti.

Gargan said despite the change in his prep race, Dakota Gold will still target the Hollywood Derby.

“It was a little frustrating because we had him really good, but hopefully we can run [well] in this race and head out there for the Hollywood Derby,” said Gargan. “If not, there’s something at Gulfstream at the end of the year.”

Dakota Gold’s other stakes win came as a juvenile in the Nownownow last September at Monmouth Park. He capped his campaign with a close fifth-place effort as the mutuel favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar where he finished just 2 1/4 lengths back of the victorious Modern Games.

Bred in the Empire State by Sequel Thoroughbreds and Ron Bowden, Dakota Gold will exit post 6 in rein to Manny Franco.

Riot House, by Violence, arrives from an even sixth-place finish in his stakes debut going one-mile in Woodbine’s Toronto Cup on September 10. Ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, Riot House pressed close to the pace in third for the first half-mile before dropping back to seventh at the stretch call and finishing five lengths back of the winning Luckman.

It was the third outing with Gargan for Riot House, who made his first two starts with conditioner Wesley Ward last spring at Belmont. He made his debut for Gargan a winning one with an off-the-pace score sprinting 7 1/2 furlongs to break his maiden this March at Gulfstream Park, and successfully stretched out to one mile in his next start to win a first-level optional claimer in April at the Hallandale Beach oval.

Riot House made his final preparations on Friday over Belmont’s inner turf course, breezing a bullet half-mile in 47.35 seconds.

“He’s run less, and so I needed a stronger work from him,” said Gargan. “I worked him really easy his last two works on the dirt, and he’s not as good of a work horse on the dirt. I needed to tighten the screws on him so he’s fit.”

Carmouche retains the mount from post 3.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will also send out two contenders in Whisper Hill Farm’s graded stakes-winner Grand Sonata [post 2, Javier Castellano] and Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Steady On [post 8, Irad Ortiz, Jr.].

Grand Sonata enters from a game third-place finish in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Hill Prince on October 22 at Belmont at the Big A with a rallying bid under Junior Alvarado. The son of Medaglia d’Oro rated along the inside in the middle of the 10-horse field before tipping four-wide and steadily making up ground down the stretch to be defeated 2 1/4 lengths.

Earlier this year, Grand Sonata landed his lone graded stakes score in the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy in February at Gulfstream Park by a neck over stablemate Royal Spirit, one start after scoring in the Dania Beach by a head on New Year’s Day over the same course. In addition to the Hill Prince, he went on to earn a pair of Grade 3 placings with runner-up efforts in the Transylvania at Keeneland and Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs. He also finished third in the Audubon at Churchill Downs.

Steady On, a $275,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, has won 2-of-3 career starts, including a last-out allowance victory going one mile on October 22 at Belmont at the Big A. The 2 1/2-length victory garnered a field-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

The Pioneerof the Nile colt’s other victory was a frontrunning maiden score on September 17 at Belmont at the Big A where he bested impressive next-out winner Siege of Boston by 1 1/2 lengths. Out of the unraced Storm Cat mare Wile Cat, whose dam is multiple graded stakes-winner Strategic Maneuver, Steady On is a half-brother to the Group 3-winning mare Shumoos.

W. B. Harrigan and Mike Pietrangelo’s homebred Churchtown ships in from Woodbine for Hall of Fame conditioner Roger Attfield off a gutsy second in the aforementioned Toronto Cup on September 10. The gelded son of Air Force Blue pressed the pace set by First Empire through the first three-quarters and came away with a one-length advantage at the top of the lane, but could not hold off the flying finish from the victorious Luckman and was bested by a neck at the wire.

Churchtown’s other stakes attempt was a close fourth in the Grade 3 Grey going 1 1/16 miles over Woodbine’s synthetic course last November in his first outing against winners. The consistent bay has hit the board in 5-of-7 starts with three victories and earnings of $138,223.

Junior Alvarado rides from the inside post.

Completing the field are James Politano’s multiple stakes-placed Ohtwoohthreefive [post 4, Eric Cancel] for trainer George Weaver; Jordan Wycoff’s Wicked Fast [post 5, Trevor McCarthy] for trainer Mike Maker; Jeremy Brooks’ homebred Grade 2-winner Wow Whata Summer [post 7, Jose Ortiz] for conditioner James Lawrence; and Edgar Bayeh’s multiple stakes-placed New York-bred Marinara Sauced [post 9, Dylan Davis] for trainer Mitchell Friedman. Be Better is entered for the main-track only.

The Gio Ponti, named for the three-time Eclipse Award-winning turf specialist for trainer Christophe Clement and owner Castleton Lyons, is slated as Race 7 on Saturday’s 10-race card. First post is 11:50 a.m. Eastern.