Horseracing

Gio Ponti comes off turf for Breeders' Cup Classic

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ARCADIA, California (AP)

Like Zenyatta, Gio Ponti was out of his element in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday.

Zenyatta, facing the boys for the first time in her career, became the first female to win the richest race in North America. Gio Ponti, a dominant force on turf this year, finished second in a solid transition from grass to the synthetic surface at Santa Anita.

Trainer Christophe Clement and Castleton Lyons Farms debated running Gio Ponti in the $3 million Turf. They went for the greater glory and more money, nearly pulling it off at 12-1 odds.

"This proved it was the right decision to run in the Classic and not the Turf," Clement said. "I hope to try it again next year."

Gio Ponti won four Grade 1 turf stakes this year. The divisional championship will probably come down to Gio Ponti and Conduit, the repeat winner in the Turf.

Like Zenyatta, Gio Ponti rallied from far back in the Classic. Ninth for most of the race, he charged home to grab a narrow lead in the stretch. Only a breathtaking rally by Zenyatta denied the 4-year-old the victory.

"He split horses like a champion," jockey Ramon Dominguez said. "He just took off when he got clear. That's an extremely nice filly and I'm so pleased and happy with the way my horse ran."

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FLYING DETTORI: Frankie Dettori's traditional flying dismount wasn't very smooth as he needed to put two hands on the ground to cushion his landing following the victory by Pounced in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

Dettori recovered quickly, bouncing right up to plant a kiss on a nearby television camera. It was the flamboyant Frankie being Frankie, following his ninth Breeders' Cup victory.

Born in Italy and based in England, Dettori delivered a world-class ride. Saving all possible ground, Dettori kept Pounced along the fence until midstraight. When an opening developed, he urged his colt on to a three-quarter length victory.

"I had a box seat, very pleased that we got the split between horses," he said. "He fought really hard for me. The gap was big enough for me to go through and my horse was very brave."

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HEAD'S UP: Freddy Head became the first horseman to ride and train consecutive Breeders' Cup winners.

As a jockey, Head scored with Miesque in 1987 and 1988. On Saturday, Goldikova prevailed for the second straight year over the Santa Anita course.

All four victories came in the $2 million Mile on the turf. In each instance, a filly beat the boys.

Head, 62, was the leading rider in France six times during a 34-year career. He hung up his whip and goggles in 1997 to launch a new career as a trainer.

It took almost 10 years before Head conditioned a Group 1 winner. Goldikova, a winner of 10 of 15 races against world-class runners, put Head back on top.

"I don't have the words to say what I feel," he said. "Having ridden a horse like Miesque and now training a horse like Goldikova, it's something you can't dream of."

Head said it's less nerve-racking to be in the saddle.

"I think I was more nervous before this race than when I used to ride Miesque," he said.

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HOPPER IN THE HOUSE: Prostate cancer couldn't keep Dennis Hopper away from the Breeders' Cup.

He decided to come out to support of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, the event's official charity. It was revealed last month that the 73-year-old actor and artist had been diagnosed with cancer, although Hopper said Saturday he's been battling it for nine years. He's started a new, experimental treatment at the University of Southern California he hopes will help.

"It has great promise," Hopper said. "Everything's good right now."

Hopper is one of horse racing's biggest and best-known fans. He's been to five Breeders' Cups, including last year when he said he cashed a $17,000 trifecta ticket in the Classic.

He's disappointed horse racing has lost some of its luster among the public but believes the sport carries its own alluring style and swagger.

"It would be a drag to see the industry come down," Hopper said. "It's such a great tradition. I hope it gets well and goes on forever."

Other celebrities at Santa Anita included Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, actress Elizabeth Banks, golf great Gary Player, actor-singer Joey Fatone, real-life couple Jerry Ferrara and Jamie-Lynn Sigler of "Entourage," actors Joe Mantegna, Joe Pesci and Jerry O'Connell and NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung. Boyz II Men performed "God Bless America" in between races.

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