The secret is already out. But you can confirm exactly how volatile a sprinter Volatile is in Saturday’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. The featured race on Saratoga’s Saturday card gives you a glimpse of some of the best sprinting talent in the country.
Only five horses are entered for the six-furlong race, but three of the Vanderbilt’s five horses own Grade 1 victories. And the Vanderbilt’s winner’s roll features the quality likes of War Front, Speighstown, Orientate and Imperial Hint, who won the last two years.
The likely candidate to join that list is the aptly named and aptly favored (4/5) Volatile, who is another one of those horses benefiting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the layoff it offered.
Last July, Volatile’s connections turned the $850,000 purchase loose in a harmless maiden special weight race at Ellis Park. He won. Two months later, they sent him off in an allowance, where he finished second, but with a higher Equibase Speed Figure (99) than his maiden-breaking win (94). Six weeks later, Volatile tore through an allowance field at Churchill Downs, winning with a 107 Equibase.
Volatile Speed Abounds In This Horse
That was the appetizer to what followed in 2020. Trainer Steve Asmussen gave Volatile the next five months off, which apparently turned the 4-year-old colt into a sprinting Tasmanian Devil. When Volatile returned in April, he destroyed an allowance field at Oaklawn Park by 7 ½ lengths. What stood out was not only Volatile’s career-high 119 Equibase, but the sizzling fractions he clocked: a 21.6-second quarter-mile and 44.8-second half-mile.
Turning in those times and still winning by 7 ½ lengths is a signal you’re looking at a sprinting star. And it was only a preview of coming attractions.
Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes
Morning Line (Jockey)
- Lexitonian, 20/1 (Tyler Gaffalione)
- Whitmore, 2/1 (Joel Rosario)
- Firenze Fire, 4/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr.)
- Volatile, 4/5 (Ricardo Santana Jr.)
- Mind Control, 6/1 (John Velazquez)
Volatile’s next start came in early June, in the listed Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs. This time, his splits were 21.48 and 44.36. His fifth furlong was a ridiculous 11.3 seconds, which gave him a 3 ½-length lead that looked effortless. And to rub his rivals’ noses further into the ground, Volatile’s sixth and final furlong took him only 11.91 seconds.
It carried him to an eight-length victory, along with a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure. His 1:07.57 final clocking missed the Churchill Downs six-furlong record by 0.02 seconds.
Keep An Eye On the Crafty Veteran
This kind of Volatile speed awaits Volatile’s rivals, which begin with the venerable Whitmore (2/1). The 7-year-old gelding is horse racing’s version of the crafty veteran. He goes out every race and finds a way to contend, especially in six-furlong races. In 21 career starts at that distance, Whitmore is 12-6-2. He’s coming off back-to-back wins in the Hot Springs Stakes and the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint. He’s won those two races a combined seven times.
Then, there’s Firenze Fire (4/1). Like Whitmore, he’s a Kentucky Derby veteran. And like Whitmore, who finished 19th in the 2016 Derby, that race isn’t a resume-builder. Firenze Fire finished 11th in the 2018 Derby. This, along with his mediocre finishes in mile stakes races, sent Firenze Fire into sprints. He finished second to Whitmore in last year’s Forego Stakes at Saratoga and fourth in last year’s Vanderbilt.
Firenze Fire comes in with four victories in his last five races, including a victory in the Grade 2 True North Stakes at Belmont Park in late June. That was Firenze Fire’s 11th career win in 26 starts.
Standout Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Sparks Firenze Fire
“We get (jockey) Irad (Ortiz Jr.) back, everything is doing well. We just need things to keep going smooth,” trainer Kelly Breen told the New York Racing Association. “I believe the distance will suit him really well. He’s doing as well as he was (going) into his last race.”
The other horse to watch is Mind Control (6/1), who owns Grade 1 wins as a 2-year-old (Hopeful) and 3-year-old (Allen Jerkens) among his seven victories. Both came at Saratoga.
“He’s 2-for-2 there, so he does have an affinity for Saratoga and we’re excited to get him back there and hope he performs well,” trainer Gregg Sacco said.
The pick: Volatile. There’s no volatility in Volatile’s value here – except down. Just key him atop your exotics and revel in a star’s performance.