Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson said Sunday morning that he will replace Jose Santos on the 5-year-old Volponi, who rallied from a belated start to be second by a length to Medaglia d'Oro in the Whitney.
"He will not ride him, no," Johnson said. "I won't stop riding the jock, but he won't ride this horse."
The Whitney was the fourth time in as many starts this year that Volponi ran second, and his losses have been by less than six lengths combined. Santos has been aboard for all but one of Volponi's eight races since last August, including their Breeders' Cup Classic (gr.I) victory.
"He would have to come to a decision of Funny Cide or us, and I don't want to put myself under that pressure or him under that pressure," Johnson said. "I have no jockey in mind at all."
Santos was in New Jersey Sunday to ride Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner Funny Cide in the $1 million Haskell (gr. I) at Monmouth Park.
Johnson was critical of Santos' ride on Volponi, saying the rider got his horse trapped behind others, then had to shuffle back and swing around to the outside to engage Medaglia d'Oro. After edging close, Volponi came up short in the stretch as Medaglia d'Oro pulled away.
Volponi was also compromised at the gate when he had his head turned sideways and an assistant starter's hand over his nose when the doors opened. Johnson estimated the break cost the horse 2-3 lengths.
"The assistant starter was yelling no, no, no. Anybody could hear it," Johnson said. "Maybe they thought he said go, go, go, and they pushed the button.
"If you watch the replays, he was in close twice and he made a terrible decision to stay on the rail. Then had to go from third to fourth to fifth to get out, when he made the run that we were all excited about and he was still trying to get the horse at the end."
Replays of the race show seem to contradict Johnson's assessment. Although Volponi was clearly hindered at the start, Santos never had to check or break stride running in the two path behind Scrimshaw, Medaglia d'Oro and Proud Citizen. Once Proud Citizen, who was to his outside, began to drop back, Santos moved Volponi three wide to engage the winner.
Johnson said he has yet to think about who will replace Santos, who he had not yet told of his decision. Rich Migliore, Shaun Bridgmohan, John Velazquez and Jean-Luc Samyn, among others, have ridden Volponi in his 27-race career.
Migliore visited with Johnson briefly during his rounds at the Oklahoma Training Track Sunday morning. Johnson said he will not offer the mount to Samyn.
"No, we're too close. We're good friends," he said. "I wouldn't put him under that pressure."
Johnson said Volponi came out of the race well and may go next in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup (gr. II) Aug. 16. Golden Return
Trainer Bobby Frankel was in good spirits Sunday morning following Medaglia d'Oro's Whitney victory, his first race in four months following a foot injury.
"He's back," trainer Bobby Frankel said Sunday. "Anytime you have a horse that has a problem and they're laid up so long, you always wonder if he's gonna' fire. I knew I had him fit enough, but was he gonna try? And, he tried."
Since the Jim Dandy (gr. II) was first run in 1964, no horse prior to Medaglis d'Oro had ever won that race, the Travers (gr. I) and the Whitney.
"It's nice, I guess. He's a pretty good horse," Frankel said. "If he's not the best horse, he's the second-best (to Mineshaft) right now, not counting the 3-year-olds."
Frankel said Medaglia d'Oro will likely run back in the Woodward (gr. I) Sept. 6 at Belmont Park, where he is expected to meet up with Mineshaft. He was also considering the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on Aug. 16 in California, but hinted he may go there with Milwaukee Brew instead, following that one's easy allowance victory Sunday in Monmouth's opener.
The Whitney was Frankel's 16th Grade I victory this year, and his third of four run so far at Saratoga. He admitted that it never gets old.
"To tell you the truth, no," he said, "but you make a lot of enemies. Whether you talk to them or not, they hate you. I'm finding that out a lot right now. There's a lot of trash-talking at the racetrack." Frankel, Johnson Continue War of Words
Backstretch neighbors and Hall of Famers alike, Frankel and Johnson resumed trading barbs. Prior to the Whitney, Johnson, in print, accused Frankel of hyping both himself and his horse.
"What does he put that in the papers for? I don't knock his horse," Frankel said. "I don't bother anybody. When you win, no one likes you. That's the way it is. I'm not gonna stop winning because of it."
Frankel dismissed a growing rivalry between Medaglia d'Oro and Volponi, who have taken turns beating each other.
"He runs in one race with me every year," he said. "What rivalry is that?"
Johnson, who breeds and owns many of the horses in his barn, laughed about the so-called verbal war.
"You don't go after a guy that's got all that ammunition," he said. "They're looking for Saddam's weapons cache, Frankel's got his right here. As far as what he says, he's always saying it. I couldn't care less.
"Nobody said he didn't have a good horse, and nobody said he couldn't train a horse. I just said, why the hell doesn't he shut up? I just wish he'd appreciate what he's got over there and stop bragging. It demeans the sport." Around the Spa
Denon breezed over the main track in 1:04 2/5 Sunday morning in preparation for the Sword Dancer (gr. I) Aug. 9. Frankel said the work was deceptively slow because of an incident on the track. "He got a little messed up because a loose horse was coming in the opposite direction and the boy was scared to let him work. I can't blame him, you know? But he's fit. He's acting good and moving really well, which is the main thing."Also out for Frankel Sunday were Shuvee (gr. II) winner Wild Spirit and multiple Grade I winner You, who each went five furlongs in 1:02; Mother Goose (gr. I) and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) winner Spoken Fur, five furlongs in 1:01 3/5; Poker (gr. III) winner War Zone, five furlongs in 1:01 2/5; and sprinter Aldebaran, five furlongs in 1:01.
Meet-leading trainer Todd Pletcher and veterinarian David Bryant were each fined $1,500 Sunday for failure to follow proper Lasix procedure with Catalita in the second race on Friday.Eleven horses were entered for the listed $65,000-added Waya Stakes on Wednesday, to be run at 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf course. Among the top challengers are Pletcher's Something Ventured and Sunstone, who has been up against graded stakes competition in four of her last five starts.
Not wanting to run Zavata beyond six furlongs, trainer Patrick Biancone remains hesitant to come back in the King's Bishop (gr.I) Aug. 23 following Zavata's smashing victory in Saturday's Amsterdam (gr.II). "I really don't know if he can go seven furlongs," he said.