09/23/2001 11:00PM

No traffic jam this time to foil Left Bank


ELMONT, N.Y. - The trip was probably the difference.

When they met last Saturday at Belmont Park in the $300,000 Vosburgh Handicap at seven furlongs, Squirtle Squirt and Left Bank were coming off contrasting races at Saratoga.

Squirtle Squirt, in winning the Grade 1 King's Bishop by more than three lengths, had a perfect trip. Left Bank, finishing second in the Grade 1 Forego Handicap, had a rough trip. Bottled up behind horses to the eighth pole, he lost all chance to win, though he closed strongly.

They appeared to run back to their Saratoga form. Squirtle Squirt, favored at 75 cents to the dollar, went to the front, as is his custom. He led through a quarter in 22.72 seconds, a half-mile in 44.57, the six furlongs in 1:08.21.

He continued on gamely for Jerry Bailey but Left Bank, finishing full of run for John Velazquez, proved best in the drive. The 4-year-old Left Bank prevailed by half a length over the 3-year-old Squirtle Squirt in 1:20.73. It was the second fastest Vosburgh in the 62-year history of the stakes and the fastest Vosburgh run at Belmont in 42 attempts.

"We felt frustrated after the Forego because we thought we may have run the best horse," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "But there was heavy traffic in front of him and he had no place to go until the eighth pole, and by then it was too late to win.

"Still, he showed a maturity in the Forego he had never shown before," Pletcher said. "In the past, he would only show determination if he controlled the race. If he wasn't in control, he'd fade away.

He wasn't in control in the Forego but he was persistent in the drive. He has also shown maturity in his attitude. He's taking things in stride that once upset him."

Left Bank is owned by Michael Tabor, who will attempt to win the Breeders' Cup Classic with the Epsom and Irish Derby winner, Galileo, whom Tabor owns in partnership with Coolmore Stud. Left Bank may bid for a Breeders' Cup victory in the Sprint, though Pletcher notes it is a race in which luck plays an inordinate role.

Pletcher enjoyed a big afternoon for in addition to Left Bank's score in the Vosburgh the trainer also saddled Tugger to capture the $113,800 Noble Damsel Handicap for fillies and mares. Third choice in the wagering though she has won four of her last five starts, Tugger, a 4-year-old daughter of Twining, led all the way under Jerry Bailey to score by a length.

Tugger, a $310,000 purchase at the OBS 2-year--old sales at Calder, began to improve this past spring, coincidental with the addition to her equipment of blinkers. She is owned by the Anstu Stable.

Express Tour fires off long layoff

When Express Tour gets enough time between races, he can be very effective.

He had more than three months since a moderate effort in the Riva Ridge on Belmont Day and he was Hawkins Hoss in the $150,000 Jerome Mile for 3-year-olds, another feature of Saturday's program.

Express Tour, owned by Shiekh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, led much of the way under John Velazquez to win impressively by more than five lengths. Tom Albertrani, delighted with the performance, is considering Belmont's Stuyvesant or Aqueduct's Discovery Handicap for his next appearance.