Updated on 09/17/2011 5:37PM

Age has only made Speightstown better

Email
Horsephotos
Speightstown takes on top sprinters Cajun Beat, Pico Central, and Midas Eyes in the Vosburgh.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher had two thoughts about Speightstown when he first looked at him in the summer of 1999. First, he would be a good 2-year-old. Second, he would excel in races up to one mile.

Pletcher was half right.

, who was purchased by Eugene Melnyk for $2 million at auction as a yearling, finished last in his only start at 2. He emerged from that race with bucked shins, the first in a series of infirmities that would plague the now 6-year-old son of Gone West.

Four years, two ankle surgeries, and two trainer changes later, Speightstown is the leader of the North American sprint division and is 4 for 4 this year. His status will be severely tested in the $500,000 Vosburgh, which is shaping up to be the best of four Grade 1 stakes Saturday at Belmont Park.

Among those expected to take on Speightstown in the six-furlong Vosburgh are Cajun Beat, last year's BC Sprint winner; Pico Central, winner of the Carter and Metropolitan handicaps; and Midas Eyes, the Forego winner.

Cajun Beat and Midas Eyes were less than five months old when Speightstown began his career on Travers Day 2000 at Saratoga. Sent off as the 2-1 favorite in a 13-horse field, Speightstown finished last, beaten 15 lengths. The bucked shins ended any of Pletcher's thoughts that Speightstown would enjoy early success.

"When we looked at him as a yearling, I remember vividly saying to Eugene, 'I know this is a good 2-year-old, I don't know what he'll do after that,''' Pletcher said. "Physically, when you looked at him, he was very well built, very mature, very precocious, and my thought was this horse was going to be an early kind of a horse."

Speightstown was moved from Pletcher to trainer Phil England for his 3-year-old year, as Melnyk made a concerted effort to maintain more of a presence in his native Canada, where tracks had just gotten slot machines. In February 2001, Speightstown won his 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream at odds of 13-1. After running third in an allowance race at Gulfstream and seventh in the Gotham at Aqueduct, Speightstown reeled off three straight wins at Woodbine that spring before finishing second in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga.

He would not race again for two years.

Speightstown twice underwent surgery to remove a chip from his right ankle. The second operation came in the summer of 2002 when - now back with Pletcher - Speightstown was one breeze away from racing.

Speightstown finally made it back to the races in May 2003, when he upset the defending Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi in an allowance race. After finishing second in the off-the-turf Jaipur Handicap, however, Speightstown was found to have a hairline fracture in a shoulder and was sidelined again.

Melnyk, who along with his wife, Laura, owns a farm in Ocala, Fla., was more than willing to give Speightstown the necessary time to heal.

"With every one of our horses we can be very patient and take our time," Melnyk said. "If there's any sense of any injury or a horse needing time off to freshen up, I absolutely insist on it. You'll see a lot of our horses run as 4-, 5-, or 6-year-olds. As long as he was healthy, we always knew he had talent; we always knew he was very, very fast. He put it all together in his 6-year-old year."

Speightstown's 6-year-old season began at Gulfstream in the Artax Handicap, a race he won by 4 1/2 lengths. He followed that with another convincing win in the Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby Day.

But Speightstown really raised his game in his last two races. On Belmont Stakes Day, he won the True North Breeders' Cup, running six furlongs in 1:08.04. He duplicated that time with another stellar performance, winning the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

"To me the most impressive race was the True North," Pletcher said. "We know he's fast, but to be able to ease back off another horse, going as fast as they were, and move to the outside and move away from that horse [Cat Genius] . . . to make multiple moves during the course of a six-furlong race was very impressive."

Pletcher said he believes a win in the Vosburgh could enable Speightstown to earn an Eclipse Award regardless of what happens in the BC Sprint on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

"Look at Aldebaran, he was off the board in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and he was still champion," Pletcher said. "That proves what you do in the course of the year is very important, as well. I know the Breeders' Cup has always carried extra weight, but if he's fortunate enough to win on Saturday it puts him in a very strong position."

A position Pletcher would not have dreamt attinable four years ago.