Edmund Gann's Medaglia d'Oro withstood a determined rally from his rival Volponi in the stretch and pulled away for a one-length victory in the $750,000 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) before a crowd of 38,671 at Saratoga Saturday.
Medaglia d'Oro, making his first start since he won the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) on April 5, was ridden by Jerry Bailey. He became the first horse to win the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga as a 3-year-old and return to win the Whitney (gr. I) at 4. He is unbeaten in three starts this year.
Bailey, who picked up his fifth victory on Saturday's Saratoga card, gave trainer Bobby Frankel his 16th grade I win in 2003.
"He had been training well up to this race," Frankel noted. "I wanted to win this race. And then I wanted to win it more when I read in the papers that my horse was `all hype.' Everybody knows he's a good horse except for one guy who didn't think he was a good horse, and he finished second (in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic). I wasn't mad, but I've learned that winning is the best revenge. If you win, you don't have to say anything. You just smile."
Sent off the 4-5 favorite in a field of seven (Harlan's Holiday scratched), Medaglia d'Oro covered the 1 1/8-mile Whitney distance in 1:47 3/5 on a drying track rated fast. The son of El Prado, who was second to Volponi in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) in October, won for the fourth time in five starts at the nine-furlong distance.
"Bobby (Frankel) told me he was 100 percent fit and ready," Bailey said. "I knew when I asked Medaglia the question 'if he was ready,' I was going to find out pretty quick. He gave it to me, and gave me everything he had. The juggernaut Bobby's got -- it seems like they are all stakes horses. Every time he leads one over there, they are 3-5 or 6-5. This was a real impressive effort from Medaglia d'Oro."
Bailey captured his fifth Whitney. He won the race in 1992 with Sultry Song; in 1997 with Will's Way; in 1999 with Victory Gallop and in 2001 with Lido Palace, who was Frankel's first Whitney winner.
Medaglia d'Oro, who raced in second off the pace set by Japanese-bred Northern Rock (:23 2/5, :46 4/5 and 1:10 2/5), edged to the lead coming out of the final turn. He dueled with Northern Rock through the early stretch as Volponi, fourth on the inside, was forced to swing wide on the turn while mounting a strong bid. But as Volponi came on, Medaglia d'Oro had more than enough to pull away in deep stretch.
"I thought there was a chance that Medaglia was going to be beat (when Volponi rallied), but the horse dug in hard," Frankel said. "Jerry (Bailey) said he didn't ask the horse until the eighth-pole. Jerry and Medaglia are just a great fit together."
Volponi, who was 1 1/4 length clear of third-place Evening Attire, finished second for the fourth straight time this year for jockey Jose Santos since they teamed to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"He's a natural 1 ¼-mile horse, and I wouldn't duck (Medaglia d'Oro) again going a mile and a quarter," said Volponi's trainer, P.G. Johnson. "He was a little wild going down the backstretch. He was all over the place. But he does that sometimes, and I think he's just looking for a place to run."
Santos added, "He broke fat-footed and we lost a few lengths at the start. What can I say? We were second best again. My horse ran his race. We looked like we were going to go by the winner, but it is so tough to beat Frankel and Bailey these days."
Gann purchased Medaglia d'Oro privately in March 2002. Albert and Joyce Bell bred the winner in Kentucky.
Medaglia d'Oro earned $450,000 for his seventh career win in 13 starts, pushing his career bankroll to $3,254,720.
Puzzlement closed strongly to narrowly miss hitting the board, followed by Northern Rock, Saarland and Proud Citizen.
The winner paid $3.60, $2.50 and $2.30. Volponi returned $2.80 and $2.40. Evening Attire, who closed well for Mark Guidry, posted a $3.20 show price. The $2 exacta was worth $8.10.