Never Surprised wins gate-to-wire in $150K Gio Ponti
by Keith McCalmont
Repole Stable’s Never Surprised, with Kendrick Carmouche up, made every pole a winning one in a track-record performance in Friday’s $150,000 Gio Ponti, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the Constitution bay entered from a trio of runner-up efforts against graded company, completing the exacta in the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy in January at Gulfstream Park; the Grade 3 Saranac in September at Saratoga; and the Grade 2 Hill Prince last out on October 23 at Belmont Park.
Never Surprised was away alertly from post 5 and commanded the lead through splits of 23.26 seconds, 47.37 and 1:10.95 over the good going with Safe Conduct tracking in second position to the outside of Original.
Carmouche allowed Never Surprised to improve his lead through the final turn, opening up by five lengths at the stretch call and skipping home a 6 1/4-length winner. He stopped the clock in 1:40.75, eclipsing the mark of 1:40.88 set by Spindrift in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Handicap in 2000.
Pletcher said he was impressed by the performance.
“It seemed like today he was going to go as far as they wanted to,” Pletcher said. “He galloped out strongly and got a good trip and settled nicely. He was in a comfortable rhythm and tried to sneak away. He settled better today which I think made a difference. It was an impressive race. He definitely finished with something left in the tank. One could argue that was his best performance.”
Pletcher said Never Surprised could make his next start in the 1 1/16-mile Tropical Park Derby on December 26 at Gulfstream Park.
Carmouche said a change in bit allowed him to have more control over the pacey Never Surprised.
“Todd changed a couple things, putting a different bit where he wouldn't want to fight me the whole way and today it worked out,” Carmouche said. “I'm very grateful to get the mount back and get to the winner’s circle. Thanks to Mr. Repole and Todd Pletcher. A team effort.”
Safe Conduct, with Jose Lezcano up, stayed on strong to finish second by a half-length over Gussy Mac, who rallied wide from last at the top of the lane to complete the trifecta.
Lezcano said he was pleased with the battling effort of the Ontario-bred Safe Conduct, who captured the $1 million Queen’s Plate in August at Woodbine Racetrack.
"He ran good. He's a fighter that tries hard,” Lezcano said. “The winner is a very nice horse, but my horse never gave up. He tried hard for second."
Ocala Dream, Kygo, Monition and Original rounded out the order of finish. Main-track only entrant Boldish was scratched.
Bred in Kentucky by Golden Pedigree, Never Surprised banked $82,500 in victory, while improving his record to 6-3-3-0. He returned $3.40 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Saturday at the Big A with a 10-race card featuring the $100,000 Central Park in Race 7, the $150,000 Discovery in Race 8, the Grade 3, $400,000 Long Island in Race 9 and the $150,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship in Race 10. First post is 11:50 a.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the fall meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
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