Della Francesca Takes Belmont BC 'Cap; Volponi Still Winless

(from Belmont report)
Trainer Phil Johnson figured Saturday's $209,600 Belmont Park's Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at nine furlongs on the inner turf was an ideal spot to accomplish two goals for Volponi – avoiding Mineshaft and getting a race into his 5-year-old as he prepares for defense of his Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) win at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Volponi certainly needed a victory. Since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park last year at odds of better than 43-1, Volponi had finished second in five consecutive races.

Johnson's plan hit a snag as Volponi tired in the lane to run third as an up-and-comer, Ol Memorial Stable's longshot Della Francesca, rallied for a 1 ½-length victory over Rouvres.With the rail up nine feet on the firm course, Della Francesca won in 1:47 2/5.

Ridden by Jorge Chavez, Della Francesca, who carried 114 pounds, snapped a four-race losing streak. A 4-year-old Danzig colt, he had not won since taking a Gulfstream Park allowance back in January.

"It's a long story with this guy," said winning trainer Niall O'Callaghan. "I thought highly of him in Ireland. I brought him over here, and he didn't run very well the first time. Then, he won. He doesn't want to go a mile and three-eighths. He had a real bad trip over to New Orleans: he cut his jaw and it later turned out that he had broken it. It was just an accident. He's kind of a lethargic horse to train.

"The last two races were races that he needed. He got to the front too soon at Arlington and pulled himself up. He was lying second behind a slow pace and the speed horse stopped. My assistant trainer, Jennifer Brown, always felt that he loves it when he runs at a horse; he thinks it's a game. When he sees a horse, he runs after him, but once he gets in front of them, he stops. I think he will improve now and be a good horse in this country. I would like to try him at Keeneland, since we are based at Churchill Downs."

Ol Memorial Stable, whose most recognizable member is Louisville University men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, owns Della Francesca.

"Niall (O'Callaghan) kind of talked me into this horse over the past year," Pitino said. "I really had some friends I had to talk into this, because it was an expensive purchase. We were all disappointed, but Niall felt we were racing him wrong. I called my buddy Seth Hancock, and he said, `Look, if this horse doesn't make it in racing for some reason, he would be a great, great sire. He's out of a great mare (La Affirmed), and obviously, by a great stallion. I purchased him because he said to go ahead and do it. Today made it all worthwhile."

Pitino said he would like to see Della Francesca run in the Breeders' Cup.

Della Francesca was reunited with jockey Jorge Chavez, who rated his mount on the inside, as State Shinto set a pace of :25 1/5; :48 3/5 and 1:11 3/5 with Volponi pressing. Volponi made an impressive move to get the lead, but couldn't withstand the rallying Della Francesca or Rouvres, who necked him for the place.

"My horse was very comfortable," said Chavez. "The pace wasn't that fast, but I was happy with my position. I wanted to wait until the stretch to make my move. I wasn't worried about any one else."

"(Volponi) was just galloping along. I figured if I got after him on the turn, I could get away from everyone," jockey John Velazquez said. "He gave me a little acceleration in the stretch, he didn't stop running, he just never accelerated again."

A group III winner in Ireland, the Pennsylvania-bred Della Francesca earned $125,760 to push his career total to $314,581. Following a pace-pressing fourth-place finish in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) on July 26, he won for the second time in seven starts for his U.S. connections.

Della Francesca paid $34.60, $14.80 and $2.80. Rouvres who passed Volponi in the stretch and led until inside of the eighth pole, returned $3.10 and $2.10 with Corey Nakatani in the saddle. Volponi, now zero-for-six in 2003, paid $2.10 to show.

State Shinto was fourth, followed by Political Attack, Eltawaasul and Dawn of the Condor.

(Chart, Equibase)