09/21/2001 11:00PM

Left Bank earns his Grade 1 in Vosburgh

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ELMONT, N.Y. - When racing manager Demi O'Byrne purchased Left Bank and Circle of Life out of the 1999 Calder 2-year-old the in training sales for owner Michael Tabor, he told trainer Todd Pletcher that a Grade 1 win was expected from each of them.

Circle of Life got her's later that summer in the Spinaway. On Saturday, Left Bank got his Grade 1 by running down 3-5 favorite Squirtle Squirt in deep stretch to take the $300,000 Vosburgh by a half-length before 8,723 at Belmont Park. It was 9 3/4 lengths back to Big E E in third.

Say Florida Sandy, Sly Ole Buck, and Alannan completed the order of finish. Peeping Tom was scratched due to a cough. Yonaguska also was scratched.

Left Bank did it in style as he covered seven furlongs in 1:20.73, the second-fastest Vosburgh in 62 runnings and the fastest recorded at Belmont. Dr. Fager won the 1968 Vosburgh in 1:20.20 at Aqueduct. The track record at Belmont is 1:20.20, recorded by You and I in the 1994 Riva Ridge.

As expected, Squirtle Squirt jumped out to the lead under Jerry Bailey and opened a clear advantage with fractions of 22.72 seconds, 44.57, and 1:08.21. John Velazquez had Left Bank in second position. He set sail after Squirtle Squirt turning for home and he collared that rival 100 yards out. Left Bank returned $9.50 to win as the second choice.

"I couldn't slow him down," Bailey said of Squirtle Squirt. "Seven-eighths is probably his limit anyway and I think I would have had to go a little slower the first eighth to stretch him out. I'm glad the Breeders' Cup Sprint is six furlongs."

Left Bank, a son of French Deputy who brought $600,000 at auction, had put in stellar performances before, but they always seemed to come in allowance company. He was coming off a troubled second-place finish behind Delaware Township in the Grade 1 Forego Handicap, which was preceded by a monster allowance win 18 days earlier. Because of those hard races, Pletcher was still undecided about running him in the Vosburgh as late as Thursday morning.

"My biggest concern was did we have enough time to come back to a peak effort," Pletcher said. "He was training good, he was acting right, he drew an outside post, which I thought helped us. And, if we were thinking about the Breeders' Cup Sprint we needed to earn some points to get there."

Of the 12 Vosburgh winners to contest the Sprint, only Artax (1999) has won.