09/13/2003 12:00AM

Della Francesca finally gets there

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Eleven months of disappointment for the connections of Della Francesca evaporated in just over 107 seconds Saturday as their 4-year-old colt rallied past Rouvres and Volponi in deep stretch to win the Grade 2, $200,000 by 1 1/2 lengths.

Rouvres, who took the lead from Volponi inside the eighth pole, finished second by a neck over Volponi, the 7-10 favorite. It was the sixth loss in as many starts this year for Volponi, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.

It was the first stakes victory for Della Francesca since trainer Niall O'Callaghan and Rick Pitino's Ol' Memorial Stable purchased him last summer from trainer the Ireland-based trainer Aidan O'Brien. In six prior starts for his new connections, Della Francesca could manage just an allowance win.

"We thought he'd be in all the better races," O'Callaghan said. "Up to now, it didn't happen for a variety of reasons. None of it was due to his ability, because he always breezed well."

O'Callaghan said that when Della Francesca finished 10th in the Explosive Bid Handicap at New Orleans in March, he raced with a broken jaw. O'Callaghan noted that Della Francesca made the lead too early when he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap on July 26.

For that reason, O'Callaghan instructed jockey Jorge Chavez to take Della Francesca off the pace on Saturday. Chavez had Della Francesca about four lengths off the lead after three-quarters of a mile run in 1:11.71.

State Shinto set the pace, tracked by Volponi, who broke well but was taken off the pace by John Velazquez. Volponi made the lead around the turn and had a clear advantage turning for home. According to Velazquez, Volponi "didn't have another gear. He was just going the same pace."

Rouvres, under Corey Nakatani, struck the front inside the eighth pole, but Della Francesca went past him inside the sixteenth pole. Della Francesca covered the nine furlongs over a firm inner turf in 1:47.48 and returned $34.60.

O'Callaghan said he would like to run Della Francesca in the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 4 to see if he warrants a trip to the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Pitino, in New York on a recruiting trip for his University of Louisville basketball team, said, "He's going to the Breeders' Cup."