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Longshot hope for Pontone

July 13, 2006

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Tom Pontone of Kearny, New Jersey, came close to winning the $1 million Meadowlands Pace in 2002 when McArdle, a horse he co-owned, finished second. This year, he and his partners hope that Shark Gesture can take them all the way to the winner’s circle in the Meadowlands’ signature event Saturday night. Shark Gesture is rated at 15-1 from post one with driver Mark Macdonald in the evening’s eighth race.

Shark Gesture is the third horse Pontone, his father Louis, and the Smiley brothers – Norm and Gerry – have taken to the Pace final in five years. McArdle gave them their best finish, though the Pontones and Smileys also owned Metropolitan, in partnership with Jeffrey Langfelder, who finished third in 2004.

In last Saturday’s eliminations, Brian Sears drove Shark Gesture to a fifth-place finish in only his second start of the season. Trained by 2005 Trainer of the Year Ervin Miller, Shark Gesture was supposed to make a start on July 1 at the Meadowlands, but racing was cancelled because of the budget-related government shutdown in New Jersey.

“I thought (the Pace elim) was a great race for him,” said Pontone. “We thought he might be a little short. I guess Erv told Brian just to take him into the top five and that’s what he did.”

Sears, the Meadowlands’ leading driver, didn’t know much about Shark Gesture except what he learned from Miller. That turned out to be enough.

“I talked to Erv about him a little bit and he told me some of his quirks,” Sears said. “They also told me he really doesn’t have the foundation to be raced real hard in this elimination and that he’d be a lot better off next week if we can just get him in the final. The horse showed some promise, he paced all the way to the wire with not much of a trip, so I’m pretty happy.”

“He definitely needed to race, so without that race he didn’t have the tightener that he needed,” added Sears. “But he raced decent (Saturday).”

Pontone, who races as TLP Stables, own a casket business in Kearny. He lives in the shadow of the Meadowlands and would love nothing more than to pull out a victory Saturday night.

“We have some trotters, but to win the Meadowlands Pace would be a crowning jewel,” he said.

The Pontones and Smileys purchased Shark Gesture as a yearling for $110,000. A son of Cam’s Card Shark out of Simple Gesture, Shark Gesture won a division of the Bluegrass at Lexington’s Red Mile last year and was second in a division of the International Stallion. He has won four of 12 lifetime starts and earned $124,621.

\"He’s a nice looking horse,\" Pontone said. \"Everyone told us he was a little too growthy as a 2 year old, that he would be a little better as a 3 year old.

“He did all right as a 2 year old,” he noted. “He won out in Lexington in 1:51.3, but we were concentrating most on him as a 3 year old. He’s a nice, horse, quiet. He just wants to go out there and do his job. He’s got that long stride to him. He’s a better fit for the big track.”

While Pontone hoped Shark Gesture would have a bit more seasoning this year, he is still hopeful of a strong showing in the final.

“If Brian can keep him close, I think we’ve got a shot,” Pontone said. “I think there will be a lot of early action, a fast quarter, a fast half. Hopefully Brian keeps him in good condition and brings him home. He has a nice long gate. If you get him going in the stretch he can really fly.”

“He definitely should be good off the tightener,” Sears added. “He’s a horse that just really doesn’t get tired, so I’m definitely going to put him in play and use him a little bit.”

After this interview selected to drive Western Ace in the Pace final.

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