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Speightstown not chopped liver, either
ELMONT, N.Y. - Lost in the shuffle of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi's second-place finish in his seasonal debut on Friday was the winning performance put forth by Speightstown in the race.
While Volponi was returning from a 6 1/2-month layoff, Speightstown had not been out in 21 months, since finishing second to City Zip in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 3, 2001.
Speightstown had undergone two ankle surgeries in the interim, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, who took over the 5-year-old's training from Phil England, who had Speightstown in 2001.
"After the Amsterdam when Phil England had him he came out with an ankle problem and had to have surgery,'' Pletcher said Monday. "We got him back last spring and had him almost ready to run. In his last work before I was going to enter him he developed filling in that ankle and we had to go and clean that up.''
Pletcher trained Speightstown in the summer of 2000 when he debuted at Saratoga and finished last as the 2-1 favorite in a 13-horse field. Speightstown, a son of Gone West, cost owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk $2 million at the 1999 Keeneland July yearling sale.
Following the Saratoga debacle, Speightstown did not race again until February 2001, when he won his maiden by 6 3/4 lengths. The only bad race he ran at 3 was in the Grade 3 Gotham when he finished seventh of eight.
In Friday's race, Speightstown dueled with Harmony Hall and Reason to Hail through a half-mile in 45.37 seconds. He put those two away and turned back the late charge of Volponi, who rallied wide under Jose Santos. Speightstown won by a neck and covered seven furlongs in 1:22.69. Speightstown earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 105.
"I think anytime you beat a horse of the quality of Volponi it's certainly an achievement,'' Pletcher said. "Obviously, Volponi is better at longer distances, but he's one of those [versatile] horses, and he won off a layoff last year at seven furlongs.''
Speightstown will run next in the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Handicap at six furlongs on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 7.
Volponi on target for Brooklyn
Trainer Phil Johnson said Volponi came out of Friday's race in good order and other than losing, the Hall of Fame trainer was pleased with Volponi's return effort. Volponi will make his next start in the $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap on June 14.
Johnson had equipped Volponi with blinkers for his Breeders' Cup Classic victory last October in Chicago. He took them off for Friday's race because he feared Volponi would be too fresh. Johnson said he has no plans to put the blinkers back on for the Brooklyn.
"If I put blinkers on him . . . he'd have been battling for the lead down the backside, and he'd have been beaten 10 lengths'' Johnson said. "There's no point to change now. He's still going to be fresh in the Brooklyn. If he indicates to me any dullness I'll put them back on in a second, but I'm not planning on it right now. He ran a good race.''
The Brooklyn could shape up an excellent race with Volponi, Harlan's Holiday, and Saarland among those pointing to the Grade 2.
New York trainer Tom Skiffington was arrested on Sunday morning at Belmont Park and charged with second-degree aggravated harrassment and fourth-degree stalking, according to law enforcement officials for Nassau County, N.Y., and Skiffington's lawyer.
Skiffington, 52, was arrested by NYRA security officials and escorted to the fifth precinct station house in Nassau County, where he was later released after being charged.
The charges, which are both misdemeanors, are related "to a former relationship that Tom had," said his lawyer, Randy Zelin, and involve incidents that took place more than a year ago. Zelin said that Skiffington entered a not-guilty plea after being arraigned on Monday morning.
"Sometimes in relationships things do not work out as good as we like," Zelin said. "But he is innocent, and we will fight this out through the trial."
Skiffington was released on $500 bail, according to Zelin, and was not placed on any travel restrictions. Skiffington is due back in court on May 22 for the initial phace of the legal proceedings.
John Tierney, the director of security for Belmont Park, said that the charges have not had an impact on Skiffington's access to the grounds. "He's not restricted because it's a charge" and not a conviction, Tierney said.
A former leading steeplechase jockey, Skiffington's best horse as a trainer has been Maxzene, the runner-up for the Eclipse Award as champion turf female in 1997 and 1998. Last year, Skiffington had 11 winners from 91 starts. His runners earned $434,778.
Evening Attire getting ready
Evening Attire, the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, will be ready to run around the time of the June 14 Brooklyn, trainer Pat Kelly said, but he is not expected to run in that race.
Evening Attire, who has not been out since winning the off-the-turf Red Smith Handicap last November, worked three furlongs in 36.54 seconds Monday at Belmont Park, his third breeze back. It was the third best move at that distance.
"We're just taking our time,'' Kelly said. "I have not targeted anything. The soonest he'd be ready would be Brooklyn time, but that won't be the spot.''
Kimmel suffers difficult loss
Trainer John Kimmel and his staff were still reeling Monday morning, less than 24 hours after their 4-year-old filly A New Twist died from a skull fracture suffered when she flipped in the paddock before the running of Sunday's Grade 2 Genuine Risk Stakes.
"It's a real sad thing,'' Kimmel said. "I feel really bad. I planned the mating, trained her since she first came to the track. She was a nice complement to Twist Afleet, which I own with George Bolton.''
Twist Afleet, a multiple Grade 1 winner trained by Kimmel in the early 1990's, is the mother of A New Twist, who was owned by Lucille Conover. A New Twist won two ungraded stakes and was a multiple-graded-stakes runner.
Kimmel had often said how difficult A New Twist was to train. She was high-strung like her parents, and Kimmel would always take her to the track with a pony.
The paddock accident was eerily similar to one that occurred in 1999 at Belmont when Three Ring flipped in the paddock before the running of the Mother Goose and died.
Pick six carryover on Wednesday
The second week of the Belmont meet starts Wednesday with a pick six carryover of $39,926 and a solid card on which to play.
There are four allowance races in the pick-six sequence, including an entry-level allowance turf race that includes shippers from Gulfstream, Keeneland, Evangeline Downs, and Fair Grounds.
Plait, a daughter of Cozzene from the high-powered turf connections of Jerry Bailey and Christophe Clement, will be favored. After winning her maiden from well off the pace at Gulfstream in February, Plait was compromised by a slow start when beaten less than a length at this condition at Keeneland. The rider switch from Mark Guidry to Bailey is noteworthy.
Honor Bestowed, Queens Carousel, One Act, and Magnificent Val are all in with a chance.
The pick six ends with an entry-level dirt allowance race at one mile for 3-year-olds and up. Strong Hope, a good-looking winner in the slop on Wood Memorial Day, may be the one to beat. Others to use include Mukhtaser, Endemaj, and Winged Foot Willie.
Venezia finalists announced
Patricia Cooksey, Aaron Gryder, Richard Migliore, and John Velazquez have been named as the finalists for the 2003 Mike Venezia Memorial Award. The award, instituted by the New York Racing Association, honors riders who "exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.'' It is named after former jockey Mike Venezia, who died in a spill at Belmont on Oct. 13, 1988, and was the first recipient of the award.
The 2003 recipient will be decided by voting among fans, turf writers, and jockeys. Fans may vote on the NYRA website (nyra.com) or in ballots found in the Belmont track program. Voting begins Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern and concludes Sunday at 5 p.m.
The past list of recipients includes Bill Shoemaker, Chris McCarron, Angel Cordero, Jerry Bailey, Mike Smith, Pat Day, Laffit Pincay, Robbie Davis, Eddie Maple, Gary Stevens, Jorge Chavez, Mike Luzzi, and Dean Kutz.
* Trainer Randy Schulhofer and his wife, Laura, celebrated the birth of their second child, Evan Rand, Sunday morning. Evan Rand weighed in at 8 pounds, 7 ounces. Mother and child were reported to be doing well. The couple also have a son, Scott.
- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty