05/06/2003 11:00PM

Volponi returns in sprint

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Volponi's road to Breeders' Cup glory last October began in a seven-furlong allowance race at Belmont Park in May. His connections look to use that same formula again this year.

Volponi was entered in a seven-furlong money allowance race on Friday at Belmont. Provided the weather cooperates and the track is dry, Volponi will use that $56,000 race as a prep for the $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap on June 14. Should the track come up extremely sloppy Friday, trainer Phil Johnson said Volponi would run in Saturday's $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap, a race for which he will also be entered.

On Fridays, first post at Belmont is at 3 p.m. Eastern. Volponi's race will go off at 6:36 p.m.

Volponi shocked the racing world last October at Arlington Park when he drilled a talented group in the Breeders' Cup Classic, winning by 6 1/2 lengths at 43-1. Volponi remained in Johnson's Belmont barn all winter, galloping as many as three miles a day in the shed when inclement weather prevented him from going to the track.

Volponi started breezing March 18 and has had eight recorded breezes since. Some of them have been spectacular, including a six-furlong move in 1:11.48 on April 21 and a five-furlong work in 57.95 seconds April 14.

"His works have been more advanced than I expected," Johnson said. "He was always a good work horse, but he's been very difficult to slow down."

Jockey Jose Santos, said Johnson, "has done a good job with him. He's very well legged-up. If he's dead-fit for a real hard seven-eighths, I don't know. I'd like to think he is."

In a somewhat unorthodox move, Johnson will take the blinkers off Volponi for this race. He added the blinkers for the Classic.

"He runs good either way, but he gets bored if you leave them on too long or take them off," Johnson said. "First time out he's going to get all stirred up anyway; there's no point in burning him out the first quarter-mile."

Johnson has had great success when making equipment changes with Volponi. At 2, one race after the addition of blinkers failed, Johnson took them off and Volponi won the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes.

At 3, Johnson added blinkers before an entry-level allowance race at Saratoga and Volponi won by 13 1/2 lengths. Eight races later, Johnson took blinkers off Volponi and he won the Poker Handicap.

Speightstown, who has not run in two years, since finishing second to City Zip in the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga, is the major threat to Volponi. Completing the field are Griffinite, Bag of Mischief, Harmony Hall, Careadancer, and Reason to Hail.