Updated on 09/16/2011 8:34AM

Volponi runs in the right race

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Volponi is all alone coming down the Arlington Park stretch Saturday enroute to a 6 1/2-length upset win in the Breeders' Cup Classic at odds of 43-1.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The unsettled nature of this year's dirt horse division had an appropriate final act on Saturday, when the longshot Volponi crushed Horse of the Year candidates Came Home, Medaglia d'Oro, and War Emblem in the $4 million at Arlington Park.

Volponi, at 43-1 the longest shot in the 12-horse field, blew open the race with a quick turn of foot at the top of the stretch and went on to score an emphatic 6 1/2-length victory over favored Medaglia d'Oro, leaving the crowd of 46,118 stunned. It was the largest margin of victory in Classic history.

Medaglia d'Oro held on for second by a neck over Milwaukee Brew, who rallied from 11th to finish third. Evening Attire was fourth, and was followed, in order, by Macho Uno, Dollar Bill, Hawk Wing, War Emblem, Harlan's Holiday, Came Home, E Dubai, and Perfect Drift.

Volponi ($89), ridden by Jose Santos, was timed in 2:01.39 for 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track. He justified the faith of his Hall of Fame trainer and co-owner, P.G. Johnson, who decided to run Volponi in the Classic rather the Mile, in which Volponi also was pre-entered.

"I think he's a natural mile-and-a-quarter horse," Johnson said, explaining the reasons the Classic was chosen, "and he runs as well on the dirt as on the turf, and this was $4 million, and that was $1 million."

Volponi's shocking upset against more highly regarded rivals could increase the chances that Azeri, the brilliant winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff, will be named Horse of the Year in a season when no horse dominated.

The Classic completed a day that featured a little bit of everything - punctual favorites, improbable longshots, thrilling photo finishes, and runaway victories. Horses based in Europe won two of the eight races. Jockeys Mike Smith and John Velazquez were the day's riding stars, with two victories each.

It was cloudy and cool all afternoon at Arlington, but the sun peaked through the clouds just as the horses came on the track for the Classic. Medaglia d'Oro, who had won the Travers Stakes in his last start, was sent off the 5-2 favorite. War Emblem was 4-1, with Came Home 6-1. Volponi was ignored by the bettors. He was winless in his last four starts, though he had finished in the money each time. He most recently had finished second in the Meadowlands Cup to Burning Roma, who was not entered in the Classic.

E Dubai, starting from the rail, came away quickest and took the track from War Emblem, who squeezed between E Dubai and Medaglia d'Oro in order to be second as the field hit the first turn. Medaglia d'Oro was third, to the outside of the leaders, with Perfect Drift close up while saving ground along the rail. Volponi was right behind Perfect Drift. Came Home, who started from post 11, raced wide on the first turn.

As the field advanced down the backstretch, E Dubai continued to lead narrowly over War Emblem. E Dubai set fractions of 23.07 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.63 for the half, and 1:10.20 for six furlongs.

War Emblem was asked aggressively by jockey Victor Espinoza to go after E Dubai on the far turn, and Medaglia d'Oro joined them. Volponi was right behind those horses, though, and as they passed the quarter pole in 1:35.59, Volponi rocketed along the rail to engage Medaglia d'Oro, then roared right past him.

War Emblem, meanwhile, faded badly in the final quarter-mile.

"I'm really disappointed," said his trainer, Bob Baffert. "I thought he'd run a big race today. When he came out of the gate and I saw that Victor had to nudge on him to get him going, I said that's not the War Emblem we know."

Volponi was adding blinkers for the Classic. He also switched back to Santos, who had ridden him twice previously. The mount became open because Shaun Bridgmohan, who had ridden Volponi in the Meadowlands Cup, chose to ride Evening Attire, the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, in the Classic.

Johnson said he added blinkers because Volponi dropped too far back in the Meadowlands Cup, despite being asked aggressively by Bridgmohan. "I saw he was riding, and wasn't getting any response," Johnson said.

Johnson bred Volponi in the name of his Amherst Stable, which also includes his wife, Mary Kay, and daughters Kathy and Karen, the latter a Daily Racing Form reporter. Johnson and his wife were to celebrate their 57th anniversary on Sunday. The colt is co-owned by Edward Baier's Spruce Pond Stable.

Volponi, a 4-year-old by Cryptoclearance out of Prom Knight, by Sir Harry Lewis, has now won seven times in 23 starts. He earned $2.08 million Saturday, dwarfing the $668,976 he had made in his 22 previous starts combined. His biggest previous victory came in last year's Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands. He also won the Poker Handicap on the turf at Belmont Park this summer.

- additional reporting by David Grening

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