Updated on 09/17/2011 6:52PM

Speightstown ends on winning note

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Speightstown, with John Velazquez up, makes his case for an Eclipse with a Sprint victory.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Speightstown might have won battles on more than just one front Saturday, when he accelerated to a 1 1/4-length win in the $1,060,000 at Lone Star Park. With the victory, he also turned up the heat on Pico Central in the race for champion sprinter for 2004.

The BC Sprint was the final career start for Speightstown, who on Monday was to ship to Kentucky to begin a stud career at WinStar. He exits his racing career as a millionaire and delivered a knockout punch when it might have counted most in the campaign for champion sprinter.

"To my eyes, this is the race that, if it's close, this separates the closeness," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Speightstown for Eugene and Laura Melnyk.

Pico Central has been considered the front-runner for champion sprinter since he won the Grade 1 Vosburgh over Speightstown on Oct. 2. But Pico Central's connections chose to pass the Sprint because the horse would have had to been supplemented to the race for $200,000.

The situation complicates the sprint picture for voters, but Speightstown ($9.40) made a strong case with his win Saturday. He broke from post 2 in a field of 13, and with the inside draw it seemed his whole race hinged on the start. But when the gate opened, Speightstown did not break as sharply as expected. It was an extreme disadvantage for a front-runner in a deep field, but it did not last for long. Speightstown recovered and within a few strides was in the race, sitting third behind pacesetter Abbondanza.

Abbondanza found himself up by a half-length after an opening quarter in 21.23 seconds and continued to lead the field through a half-mile in 43.47 seconds. Speightstown held his ground along the rail and managed to get through to the front going into the stretch. He accelerated from there and covered six furlongs over a track rated fast in 1:08.11.

"He didn't break as well as I wanted to, but I kicked him out of there just to get a good position," said John Velazquez, who rode Speightstown. "I had to take the advantage from the inside. He wasn't taking that much dirt and the hole was there. When it opened up, from then on it was all him."

Speightstown came into the Sprint following a third-place finish to Pico Central in the Vosburgh. He broke sharply in that race but bobbled badly and did not get his footing well over the track, which was cuppy, according to Pletcher.

"He didn't break as well today as I thought he normally would, but he wasn't struggling to get his feet up under him right away after the slow break," said Pletcher. "He just rushed right up into the race fine. The difference was he broke sharply in the Vosburgh, but he just couldn't get the track and stay there."

Before the Vosburgh, Speightstown had reeled off four straight stakes wins: the $100,000 Artax at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap at Churchill, the Grade 2 True North at Belmont Park, and the Grade 2 Vanderbilt at Saratoga, for which he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 117, the second highest Beyer in a sprint this year. Ghostzapper, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic, earned a 120 Beyer for his win over seven furlongs in the Grade 2 Tom Fool on July 4. Speightstown earned a Beyer Figure of 112 for his win Saturday.

Speightstown's slow start in the Sprint was a surprise, and so was the fact that he was not favored. Speightstown was second choice in the wagering behind Midas Eyes, who finished 10th after a troubled trip from post 13. Kela, who was third choice in the wagering, raced in 10th early and closed from seventh to second in the final furlong.

"I had to come extremely wide," said Jerry Bailey, who rode Kela. "I was warned that he would not run well into the dirt, to get him clear if I could. You lose a lot of ground, but that's where he does his best running."

Speightstown earned $551,200 for the win in the Sprint, which was his 10th victory from 16 starts. His earnings stand at $1,258,256.

My Cousin Matt, who was sent to post at 60-1, finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Kela. Bwana Charlie was fourth at 35-1 to complete a $42,365 superfecta. The remaining order of finish was Cajun Beat, Clock Stopper, Champali, Pt's Grey Eagle, Gold Storm, Midas Eyes, Abbondanza, Our New Recruit, and Cuvee.