Maiden Upsets Baptize in Pilgrim
Photo: Associated Press / NYRA / Adam Coglianese
Volponi, ridden by John Velazquez, captures the Pilgrim Stakes Sunday on closing day at Belmont Park.
Volponi earned his first career win Sunday at Belmont Park, upsetting formerly undefeated 4-5 favorite Baptize in the $113,300 Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT). The Philip Johnson-trained Volponi drew away from Baptize in the stretch under John Velazquez en route to the two-length victory. Earlier in the day, Velazquez won the co-featured Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. IIIT) aboard Ruff.

In his career debut, Amherst Stable and Spruce Pond Stable's Volponi (Cryptoclearance--Prom Knight, by Sir Harry Lewis) finished third -- beaten by one length -- in a six-furlong turf maiden race won by Baptize. Since then, the 2-year-old finished second twice and third once while racing on dirt. Switched back to the firm turf at Belmont Park Sunday, Volponi relaxed early and used a four-wide move on the second turn to sweep by Baptize approaching the eighth-pole, completing the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.02. Baptize finished 4 1/4 lengths clear of third-place Strategic Partner. Tom the River Rat was fourth, followed by Reluctant Groom, Wicked Will, Credit Crunch, Broadway Johnny, What's Your Wish, and the Johnson-trained River Otter.

"The key to the race was Baptize, and we ran a length behind him the only time we ran (Volponi) on the turf and that was the reason we ran (Volponi) here. We've improved enough to certainly be a contender." said Johnson. "Every time I had him in a maiden turf race, it would rain and I would scratch him."

Volponi earned $67,980 for the win and returned $21.80, $6.00 and $3.50. Baptize paid $2.80 and $2.30. Strategic Partner was worth $3 to show. The winning exacta paid $52.50.

"I think the best thing for him might be to go to Camden, South Carolina, for the winter and bring him back in the spring," said Johnson. (Chart, Equibase)

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