09/11/2002 11:00PM

More modest goals for Volponi


ELMONT, N.Y. - Rather than map out a plan that may take Volponi to a Breeders' Cup race next month, trainer Phil Johnson is plotting out a campaign he hopes will take him to the bank more often.

Johnson said any notion he had about running Volponi in the Breeders' Cup Mile was dispelled when Rock of Gibraltar committed to the race and Good Journey won last Sunday's Atto Mile at Woodbine. And, Johnson said Volponi has seen enough of With Anticipation's gray rear end to know he doesn't need to chase him in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

So, Johnson brings Volponi into Saturday's $200,000 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf just hoping it's a good spot to win a Grade 2 race and add $120,000 to Volponi's bankroll for Johnson's family-owned Amherst Stable and Spruce Pond Stable. Volponi figures to go off a solid favorite in the Belmont Breeders' Cup, which drew a field of six.

Johnson said he believes at this stage Volponi's best distance is at nine furlongs and will look for races at that distance on turf or dirt. After Saturday's race, Johnson will consider running Volponi back on dirt in the $400,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 4. Last year, Volponi won the nine-furlong Pegasus over The Meadowlands main track.

"I want to run him where he fits,'' Johnson said. "The Meadowlands Cup is certainly a consideration. He runs well over that racetrack. We want to make money with him and still have a horse for next year because I think that'll be his best year.''

Volponi, a 4-year-old son of Cryptoclearance, certainly fits in the Belmont Breeders' Cup. Volponi has won two graded stakes over Belmont's turf course, including the nine-furlong Pilgrim Stakes as a 2-year-old and the Grade 3 Poker Handicap at a mile in July. At Saratoga, Volponi fell a neck short to Del Mar Show in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at nine furlongs.

Volponi looms the controlling speed in the Belmont Breeders' Cup under Jose Santos and will break from post 2 as the 117-pound highweight.

"I think he can be placed anywhere in the race, but he can't be wrestled,'' Johnson said.

The horse with the best chance at upsetting Volponi may be Startac. Winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat as a 3-year-old, Startac had trouble when beaten only two lengths in the Bowling Green here in July, and he may have found the 12 furlongs of the Sword Dancer a furlong too far. Jerry Bailey rides for Bill Mott.

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