10/01/2004 11:00PM

Pico Central makes bid as No. 1 sprinter

Pico Central pulls away to an impressive four-length win under Victor Espinoza in the Grade 1 Vosburgh.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Pico Central made an emphatic case to be named champion sprinter by running away from Speightstown and Cajun Beat in the stretch and rolling to a four-length victory in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 at Belmont Park.

Longshot Voodoo rallied to get second by a half-length over Speightstown, who nosed out Cajun Beat for third. Watchem Smokey was last. Eavesdropper scratched.

Pico Central added the Vosburgh to Grade 1 wins in the Carter and Metropolitan handicaps. He also won the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita. Because Pico Central is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, owner Gary Tanaka would have to pay a $200,000 supplemental fee to run his horse in the race.

"We think we're sportsmen, we'll consider it for sure," Tanaka said.

Trainer Paulo Lobo said he wants to get Pico Central back to California and evaluate the horse before making a decision on the Breeders' Cup. Both Tanaka and Lobo believe Pico Central can skip the Breeders' Cup and still be crowned champion. Lobo said one race he has penciled in for Pico Central is the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 27.

"My personal feeling is he doesn't have to run in the Breeders' Cup to be champion sprinter," Lobo said.

"He won on both coasts; he defeated Kela, Pohave, Speightstown, Strong Hope, Cajun Beat. What else does he need to prove?"

On Saturday, Pico Central proved that his bad third-place finish in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar was an aberration. Breaking from the outside post under Victor Espinoza, Pico Central stalked Speightstown, who, after stumbling a couple of jumps out of the gate, ran an opening quarter in 22.61 seconds and a half-mile in 45.62.

Pico Central, Speightstown, and Cajun Beat were on even terms turning for home. By the eighth pole, Pico Central began to pull away while receiving a few taps of the whip. Pico Central's winning time was 1:09.74 for the first Vosburgh run at six furlongs.

"It was perfect," Lobo said. "The post position helped, but he ran like hell today."

Speightstown suffered his first defeat this season after winning four stakes races from March through August. He stumbled two jumps out of the gate, but he quickly cleared the field. He had no response, however, when Pico Central came to him.

"He might have hit himself somewhere to where he wasn't comfortable," Velazquez said. "He ran okay to the turn, but he just wasn't himself when he came down the lane."