08/01/2003 11:00PM

Medaglia d'Oro answers back


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Medaglia d'Oro, felt Phil Johnson, the trainer of Volponi, disrespected his horse with comments he made prior to the running of Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap. But instead of firing back verbally, Frankel elected to let his horse do the talking.

Saturday, Medaglia d'Oro made an emphatic statement by coming off a 119-day layoff and turning back a challenge from Volponi in upper stretch to win the $750,000 Whitney Handicap by one length. Volponi, who got off a step slow, finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Evening Attire.

Puzzlement, Northern Rock, Saarland and Proud Citizen completed the order of finish. As expected, Harlan's Holiday was scratched to await the Saratoga Breeders' Cup on Aug. 16.

In winning the Whitney, Medaglia d'Oro became just the eighth horse to win both the Travers and Whitney - Saratoga's two marquee races for males.

The victory capped a five-win day for Jerry Bailey, who has a meet-leading 20 victories.

Volponi had defeated Medaglia d'Oro in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Johnson said he didn't think Medaglia d'Oro was the horse to beat then and he didn't think he was the horse to beat in the Whitney. Frankel took it to heart.

"The horse is a good horse, everybody knows he's a good horse except for one guy who didn't think he was a good horse; that was the guy who finished second,'' Frankel said. "I've learned that winning is the best revenge.''

Medaglia d'Oro had won the Strub and Oaklawn Park Handicap to begin his 4-year-old season. A foot injury sidelined Medaglia d'Oro for the rest of the spring. He showed no ill effects from the layoff on Saturday.

Northern Rock, under Richard Migliore set the early pace, tracked by Medaglia d'Oro through fractions of 23.53 seconds, 46.81, and 1:10.47. Medaglia d'Oro tackled Northern Rock approaching the quarter pole and shook free of him in upper stretch. Volponi, who quickly attained good position after breaking slowly under Jose Santos, loomed on the outside, but did not have the kick to run with Medaglia d'Oro.

Medaglia d'Oro, who pushed his career earnings to $3,254,720, covered the nine furlongs in 1:47.69 over a fast track and returned $3.60 as the odds-on favorite.

"Bobby told me he was fit and ready and when he tells you that you just go ride with confidence,'' Bailey said. "He was kicking on pretty good in the stretch but I saw Volponi and I thought if he has his usual kick I'm going to have a dogfight here. Medaglia reached down and gave me something extra.''

Santos said the slow start did not cost Volponi the race. Volponi has finished second in all four starts this year. Volponi also went over the $3 million mark in earnings.

"It looked like turning for home I was going to go by and the other horse just held him off,'' Santos said. ```"He was second best again.''

Amsterdam: Zavata romps

Zavata, who rose and then fell from grace during the 2002 Saratoga meeting, made a triumphant return to the Spa, registering an emphatic 5 1/4-length victory over Great Notion in the $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes. Posse, the even-money favorite, finished fourth in a field of seven 3-year-olds.

Zavata moved to the top of the 2 year-old division with a 7 1/4-length victory here last summer in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. But his stock quickly plummeted 17 days later when he finished a disappointing third behind Sky Mesa as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Hopeful.

Zavata ($8.30) was reunited with jockey Jerry Bailey for the six-furlong Amsterdam. He forced the pace from the outset, stalking the early leader, Trust N Luck, through fractions of 22.00 and 44.79 seconds while saving ground over a racetrack upgraded from muddy to fast as the afternoon progressed.

Zavata readily disposed of Trust N Luck once he settled into the stretch, then steadily increased his advantage while kept under pressure through the final furlong.

Zavata had defeated a modest field of optional claiming and allowance horses at Monmouth Park in his previous start. His final time of 1:08.64 set a stakes record, breaking the old mark of 1:09 established by Distorted Humor in 1996.

"He didn't like the slop and pulled himself up at Belmont two starts back and if the racetrack had remained wet, I would have scratched him today," said Patrick Biancone, who trains Zavat.

"His last start at Monmouth was a confidence-builder and perfect setup for this race," Biancone said. "Right now the main goal is to get him ready for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He's trained at Santa Anita and he loves that track."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch