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2023 Gio Ponti Stakes Preview | Northern Invader, Ohana Honor Rep West Point Thoroughbreds
Ohana Honor (Jay Moran/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Gio Ponti Stakes Preview | Northern Invader, Ohana Honor Rep West Point Thoroughbreds

West Point Thoroughbreds will have two chances to secure a victory in Friday’s $135,000 Gio Ponti with Northern Invader and Ohana Honor, who each vie for their first stakes conquest in the one-mile inner turf test for sophomores at Belmont at the Big A.

“Both are 3-year-old colts on the improve. We don’t want to run them against each other, but it’s the right spot for both of them,” said Terry Finley, President and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds. “We’ll let the best one run better than the other.”

The Gio Ponti is slated as Race 2 on Friday’s 11-race card, which also features the re-scheduled $125,000 Ashley T. Cole in Race 4. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.

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Northern Invader, co-owned by David Ingordo and trained by Cherie DeVaux, enters from a troubled fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Secretariat on August 12 at Colonial Downs where he steadied in the first turn when racing in fourth position and went three-wide in pursuit of the top flight, but could not run down his rivals and finished 2 3/4 lengths behind the victorious Gigante.

“It was a really hot day at Colonial and I don’t think he loved the climate down there, but they all have to run in it, so we don’t go to those kind of excuses,” Finley said. “He just didn’t show up to the extent we thought he was going to show up, but we’ve given him plenty of time and we’re looking forward to seeing if he can get back on the right track.”

DeVaux said Northern Invader, who made his first two starts on dirt, is learning with each of his races.

“He’s lightly-raced, so it’s hard for him to overcome any adversity,” DeVaux said. “We just chalk it up to experience and move forward. He’s bred for the turf and moves like a turf horse and we just decided it was time to try him on the turf.”

The chestnut son of Collected was an impressive winner of his turf debut two starts back in a one-mile turf maiden special weight against elders at Belmont Park, pouncing from five lengths off the pace under Hall of Famer John Velazquez to take command at the top of the stretch and draw off strongly to an eight-length triumph that garnered a field-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

“He’s really come forward. We thought he would do fine on either turf or dirt, so it was a natural progression exploring our options with him,” said Finley. “We thought he’d run well in his turf debut, but we were a little surprised he ran that well. We were really excited to see how well he took to it and Johnny V. really loved him. We’re thinking we have a very exciting horse going forward.”

Since the Secretariat, Northern Invader has been breezing over Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma dirt training track, including two bullet half-mile works when covering the distance in 47.85 seconds on September 10 and in 48.66 on Tuesday.

“He’s always been a good work horse, so after a while you kind of know what they do in the morning,” said Finley. “He really seems to enjoy what he’s doing.”

Jose Ortiz picks up the mount from post 3.

Ohana Honor [post 4, Kendrick Carmouche], co-owned with Woodford Racing and Edward Hudson, Jr. and trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, provided West Point Thoroughbreds with one of two wins on the August 9 card at Colonial Downs, taking a first-level allowance four races before Integration captured the Grade 3 Virginia Derby.

Finley said Kendrick Carmouche, who rode both horses that day, was full of praise of Ohana Honor.

“Kendrick wanted to talk about Ohana Honor just as much as he wanted to talk about Integration,” Finley said, with a laugh.

Ohana Honor streaks in off back-to-back wins after breaking his maiden at seventh asking in a seven-furlong sprint on the dirt facing older company. He followed with his aforementioned allowance score in his third lifetime outing over the lawn.

“He’s been in Shug’s program since the beginning and he always seemed like a horse that should run better than he was running early in his career,” said Finley. “That’s what you have to do with these types – you can’t be in a hurry, and Shug never is with these kind of prospects. I knew Shug was always of that opinion that there was more there, and I love the fact him and his team have gotten him there.”

A $430,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the son of Honor Code is out of the graded stakes-winning Awesome Again mare Spacy Tracy and is a half-brother to multiple graded stakes-winner Victim of Love, graded stakes-winner Benner Island, multiple graded stakes-placed High North.

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown sends out Klaravich Stables’ dual graded stakes-placed Appraise [post 5, Manny Franco] for his fourth try at a stakes conquest on the heels of a game runner-up finish in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on August 11 at Saratoga Race Course.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, the Kodiac bay contested the early lead with Mysterious Night and battled one gamely down the lane to bravely fend off the late surge of More Than Looks to secure place honors by a nose, 2 1/4 lengths behind his victorious stablemate Carl Spackler. More Than Looks exited that effort to win the Jefferson Cup on Saturday at Churchill Downs, while Carl Spackler won the Grade 3 Saranac in his next start.

In addition to the Hall of Fame, Appraise also finished second to Mysterious Night in the Grade 1 Summer last September at Woodbine ahead of a 10-month respite that ended with a victorious return in a July 8 allowance at Belmont Park.

Brown has also entered Peter Brant’s Army Times for the main track-only.

Completing the field are Sonata Stable’s maiden-winner City Fever [post 1, Javier Castellano] for trainer Michael Trombetta and Harrell Ventures and Starlight Racing’s stakes-winner Bat Flip [post 2, Jose Lezcano] for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. 

Twice-Rescheduled Ashley T. Cole Stakes Now Slated For Friday

The $125,000 Ashley T. Cole, a nine-furlong outer turf test for New York-breds 3-years-old and up, was re-scheduled for a second time due to inclement weather and is slated as Race 4 on Friday’s 11-race card.

The original field slated for the race before its subsequent cancelation have re-entered for Friday’s race, excluding main-track only entrant Bankit. The Linda Rice-trained Un Ojo [post 7, Jose Lezcano] had originally entered for the main track-only, but has now joined the main body of the field.

Completing the field are:

  • Kingdom On Paws [post 1, Jose Gomez]
  • Jerry the Nipper [post 2, Jose Ortiz]
  • City Man [post 3, Trevor McCarthy]
  • Barrage [post 4, Dylan Davis]
  • Born Dancer [post 5, Kendrick Carmouche]
  • Spirit of St Louis [post 6, Manny Franco]