Volponi Returns With New Rider in Saratoga Breeders' Cup

Amherst and Spruce Pond Stable's Volponi has finished second in four starts this year after winning the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) last fall. Jose Santos, aboard for all those races, has been replaced by Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey for Saturday's $300,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at 1 1/4 miles.

Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson has not lost faith in Volponi despite his run of seconds. The 5-year-old has run well in all his starts this year. Recently he lost to Mineshaft and Medaglia d'Oro in the Suburban and Whitney, arguably the two best handicap horses in the country.

"I don't think he's run one bad race," Johnson said. "Last time, I thought he ran as good as he could and I don't think he had a good trip. I've been criticized by the press quotes about not thinking he had a good trip, but I'm entitled to it and they're entitled."

Volponi will be asked to run back to his good second in the Whitney on just two weeks rest. Usually, he has at least three weeks between races.

"This will be his fifth race of the year, then we'll back off a little bit unless he runs horrible," Johnson said. "I'll freshen him up until the Meadowlands Cup [grade II, $400,000, nine furlongs, October 3rd]."

Bailey is looking forward to riding Volponi for the first time Saturday.

"Horses run the best the way they want to run," Volponi's new pilot said. "If you've ridden a horse a couple of times, then sometimes you go into a race and say 'I've got to ride him exactly that way because he ran the best that way.' Circumstances change, the races are different. The first time I'm on one, I have no preconceived idea because I have no past experience, so I pretty much let them run the way they want to."

Trainer Todd Pletcher elected to pass the Whitney Handicap with Starlight Stables' Harlan's Holiday after the 4-year-old ran a strong second to Congaree in the Hollywood Gold Cup 20 days earlier. Although the colt showed Pletcher signs that the effort and cross-country ship did not take too much out of him, the trainer elected to be cautious and wait for the Saratoga Breeders' Cup instead.

"Medaglia d'Oro ran his race in the Whitney and he would have had to run a smashing race to be able to beat him and back in 20 days after shipping to California was not the right scenario," said Pletcher. "He's had two more weeks since the Whitney and I think it's the right formula."

Just to Pletcher's left, Harlan's Holiday was really full of himself Wednesday morning. He munched on his feed and the stall door, walked to the back of his stall to look out a window, snorted and pumped his head up and down.
"He picked his head up pretty quickly after getting here," Pletcher said. "He seems to be one of those horses that really likes Saratoga."

Harlan's Holiday, who won an allowance and the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream over the winter, will be looking for his third win of the year. The Dubai World Cup runner-up will be making his first start at Saratoga.

Blue Boat, undefeated in this country for trainer Bobby Frankel, should be part of the Saratoga Breeders' Cup pace, along with Brooklyn Handicap winner Iron Deputy.

Puzzlement does his best running from well off the pace. The 4-year-old comes off a decent fourth-place effort in which he was beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Medaglia d'Oro in the Whitney.

Also running in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup are No Comprende, Nothing Flat and State Shinto.

1. Nothing Flat, Nick Zito, Cornelio Velasquez, 111
2. Puzzlement, H. Allen Jerkens, Jorge Chavez, 113
3. Volponi, P.G. Johnson, Jerry Bailey, 122
4. No Comprende, James Smith, Mike Luzzi, 112
5. Harlan's Holiday, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 121
6. State Shinto, Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore, 115
7. Iron Deputy, Jimmy Jerkens, Jose Santos, 115
8. Blue Boat, Bobby Frankel, Edgar Prado, 112