SARATOGA SPRINGS — Volatile had every reason to live up to his name as he was waiting to run in the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
First, Whitmore broke through the gate and had to be corralled and brought back to reclaim his starting spot.
A late scratch of Lexitonian, who flipped in his stall, extended the delay.
Then when the Vanderbilt finally got under way, Volatile was allowed to behave like an inert gas.
Comfortably waltzing through an opening quarter-mile in 23.46 for the six-furlong sprint, Volatile had plenty left in the tank to hold off veteran Whitmore by 1 1/4 lengths in his graded stakes debut.
Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., Volatile won his fourth straight dating back to November while stamping himself as one of the best sprinters in North America, with serious Breeders’ Cup aspirations.
“For a Grade I sprint race to be allowed the first quarter like that, he was very fortunate,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The anxious moments were pre-race with the incident at the gate. Once he was away from the gate smoothly and they threw up the first quarter, I knew he would be awfully hard to beat from there.”
“I’m glad we backed him off from the gate again,” Santana said. “When we came back up, he relaxed really well, and then I was happy, because I could see he was ready to go. The gate opened, and he put me in the spot that he wanted. Turning for home, he kicked really well.”
Volatile’s winning streak includes two allowances and the ungraded Aristides at Churchill Downs on June 6, so running in a Grade I was a big jump up.
But he produced eye-popping speed figures out of his Aristides and was 4-5 on the morning line, bet down to 2-5, against accomplished stakes winners Whitmore, Firenze Fire and Mind Control.
The late-running Whitmore, ridden by Joel Rosario, made his strong trademark closing move in the stretch, but the slow early quarter that Volatile got away with was too much to overcome.
“He was enjoying everything in there, but he wasn’t getting to the winner; he was too good today,” Rosario said. “I was up there close, and my horse was there for me, dragging me over there, but the pace wasn’t very fast. But he was fighting hard and very comfortable inside there, and he’s a champ.”
Although it took a while for Volatile to get a crack at graded stakes company, co-owners Three Chimneys Farm and Phoenix Thoroughbreds have always had high hopes for the son of Violence.
He was purchased as a yearling for $850,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September sale. Unraced as a 2-year-old, Volatile has won five of six career starts.
“We saw the first two races from him this year, and they were absolutely brilliant,” Asmussen said. “I feel very good about getting those races into him before we met accomplished horses like this. But from and ability or speed level, he has it all.
“This race was very important to us, with who he is. Phoenix and Three Chimneys own him, he’s got a tremendous pedigree, eight hundred and some thousand dollar yearling, the look he has … it’s a very significant win for his next career [as a stallion].