The last lingering bone of contention surrounding this year’s Colonial Down race meet is the purse for the Virginia Derby. Colonial Downs management is reluctant to lower the purse as they pursue Gr. 1 status for the race.

However, the key point for graded races is how the winners of the race do in subsequent big events. Last year’s winner of the Virginia Derby, Gio Ponti, did his part to uphold the Graded Stakes Committees’ view of the race when he closed from the far outside to collar Ventura in the final strides of the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap Gr. 1 on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

Gio Ponti became a millionaire in the process.

Ventura, facing males in the Kilroe Mile, swept into contention on the final turn and surged to the lead in the stretch, but jockey Garrett Gomez had trouble keeping her on a straight path to the wire and Gio Pontio capitalized. He uncoiled an explosive turn of foot entering the stretch under Ramon Dominguez and steadily reeled in Ventura, nipping that foe by a nose at the wire.

The victory was the first at the highest level for the four-year-old Tale of the Cat colt, who won three graded stakes last season. Owned by Castleton Lyons, Gio Ponti entered the Kilroe Mile off a fifth-place finish, beaten by 1 1/2 lengths, in the Strub Stakes Gr.2 on the main track at Santa Anita Park.

Dominguez rode Gio Ponti to a win as a juvenile in the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland Race Course. He also was aboard for his eighth-place finish at Monmouth Park in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, in which Gio Ponti was steadied in traffic early. Dominguez had not ridden Gio Ponti since the Breeders’ Cup

Ventura finished three-quarters of a length in front of third-place finisher Dixie Chatter.

Out of Chipeta Springs, by Alydar, Gio Ponti improved to six wins in 11 career starts and boosted his earnings to $1,005,800. Last year, he won the Virginia Derby Gr.2, Sir Beaufort Stakes Gr.3, and Hill Prince Stakes Gr.3

For an Equibase chart, click here.

(Benoit & Associates photo)