Volponi, who used the Meadowlands Cup (gr. III) as a springboard to victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), breezed a half mile in :49 2/5 at Belmont for Friday night's running of the 1 1/8-mile event.
Trainer Phil Johnson, whose Amherst Stable owns the 5-year-old son of Cryptoclearance in partnership with Spruce Pond Stable, said he will take the blinkers off Volponi for the Meadowlands Cup, then may put them back on for the Classic, which this year is sponsored by Dodge. Last year, Volponi raced twice with blinkers on early in the year, then had them removed in early July before Johnson put them back on for the Classic following Volponi's second-place finish in the Meadowlands Cup.
"He'll have the blinkers off for (the Meadowlands Cup), which should dull his speed a little bit and let him finish," Johnson said on a national teleconference. "I don't know who's running, but I'm definitely looking for him to come from farther back than he has been all year. He's been a little closer to the pace a couple of times. One time, I was guilty of it, then another time I think it was a little bit of a rider's error. But, given a choice, he should be farther off the pace.
"I think all horses would be better off with changes and not stay consistent with equipment. I think there's a good chance I'll put the blinkers back on for the Classic, unless crazy speed shows up. (Medaglia d'Oro) has speed when they want to use it, and I'm sure (Bobby Frankel) wouldn't want to let Congaree get loose. Even Mineshaft would join the mix, so I think we'd have a better chance of beating him at Santa Anita than any place else."
When asked to compare this year's Classic to last year's, Johnson said it all depends on who runs. "I hear Mineshaft might go or might not go," Johnson said. "And (Perfect Drift) might not go. That leaves Congaree as the real king of the horses to beat at a mile and a quarter. He's fast and he's running on a pretty speedy racetrack out there. I'd love it if Mineshaft didn't run. You're going after $4 million and you're paying more money to run for the same money you got last year. So, if he doesn't run it would be fine with me. Running against him doesn't give you any dollars, and getting beat by him is worse."
"He's been closer to Mineshaft than anyone this year other than Perfect Drift. We ran by him (in the Suburban), but he came on and won easily. But I think we've come a long way since then. I think he's a better horse than he was last year."
Volponi, who has earned over $3.1 million in his career, will be ridden in the Meadowlands Cup by John Velazquez. In six starts this year, he has five seconds and a third. "It's a little frustrating, but he's been running against the best horses," Johnson said.