From Gio Ponti to greyhounds, this should be a grand day of area racing.
The 2010 debut of dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti in the 24th running of the $150,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup kicks off the action this afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. Tonight at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, the greyhound track's richest 550-yard stakes begins with the 35th annual $85,000 Sprint Classic.
Gio Ponti, a 5-year-old horse by Tale of the Cat, is arguably one of the most celebrated horses to run at the Downs. The 2009 Eclipse Award winner for older male and male turf horse is expected to use the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup as a prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 27 at the new Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
"We're obviously just thrilled to have him come here," Downs racing secretary Allison De Luca said. "Everybody that picked up an overnight (entry sheet) just can't believe it … a few people saying, 'Gio Ponti?' It's a huge thing for Tampa."
Trained by Christophe Clement and a lifetime earner of $3,153,800 for owner Castleton Lyons, Gio Ponti is going for his 10th victory in career start No. 17. Eight of his wins have been on turf. In 2009, he won four consecutive Grade I races on grass. Gio Ponti has been off since the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park, where he finished second to undefeated Zenyatta in the Classic.
Gio Ponti and jockey Ramon Dominguez start from post 2 in the field of nine. The featured 11/16th-mile turf event is Race 7 at 3:03 p.m.
At Derby Lane, 32 sprinters compete in the first of four Sprint Classic qualifying rounds in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. The other qualifiers are Wednesday, Feb. 27 and March 3. Eight dogs with the most accumulative points advance to the final on March 6. First place pays $25,000.
"What's making it interesting is you do have some of the longer-distance dogs moved back over (to 550 yards), but you've got your true sprinters like Aerial Battle, Kiowa Lazy Lazy and Lamorge Streaker," Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Filipelli said. "It's a nice, well-rounded field."
All 16 kennels have two entries, but there is one noticeable absentee in La Rosa Enterprises, a former Derby Lane fixture under Tom La Rosa. The kennel is now called Royal Racing Team with new owner Bobby Sidhu and trainer David O'Keefe. McAllister Kennels, winner of last year's Sprint Classic with Flyin Home Depot, is represented by Flying Bergen and Flying Coal City.
MORE HORSES: The Fountain of Youth and Hutcheson, Grade II races for 3-year-olds, are among four graded races on today's card at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.