09/29/2004 11:00PM

Speightstown, Pico Central in Vosburgh showdown

Speightstown (above), the East's top sprinter, and Pico Central, twice a Grade 1 winner in New York, square off.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Though trainer Bobby Frankel kept Midas Eyes out of the race, Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Vosburgh Stakes will still have major implications on deciding the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter.

, a California-based colt who has already won two Grade 1 races in New York. The six-furlong Vosburgh also marks the return of Cajun Beat, last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, who has not raced since March. Watchem Smokey and longshots Eavesdropper and Voodoo are also entered.

Frankel was leaning toward running Midas Eyes, the Forego winner, in the Vosburgh, but on Thursday decided to pass. Frankel may run him in the Phoenix at Keeneland next week or train him up to the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

Still, a Speightstown-Pico Central matchup is very attractive and could decide the sprint champion before the Breeders' Cup is run.

Speightstown is 4 for 4 this year - all stakes - with impressive victories in the True North Breeders' Cup and Alfred G. Vanderbilt handicaps at six furlongs. Trainer Todd Pletcher had the choice of training Speightstown up to the Breeders' Cup Sprint or running in the Vosburgh. Pletcher felt it best to run.

"When you have a horse that is as sharp as he is and doing as well as he is, sometimes you worry more about keeping them from tipping over for four weeks," Pletcher said. "The Breeders' Cup Sprint can be one of those races that can be a bit of a crapshoot anyway, especially when you have 14 horses in there."

Speightstown and Pico Central both have similar running styles. That is to say, they figure to be going at each other from the outset. For the seventh straight time, Speightstown drew an inside post - 1, 2, or 3 - this time breaking from post 2 under John Velazquez. Pico Central will break from the outside post under Victor Espinoza.

Pico Central won the Grade 1 Carter at Aqueduct in the spring and the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap here in May. Pico Central emerged from the Met Mile with a foot injury, which kept him out of serious training for almost one month. He returned to the races in Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 15, and finished third as the 2-5 favorite after dueling through hot fractions. Trainer Paulo Lobo reasons that Pico Central didn't care for the track.

"It's very, very difficult track to do the kind of pace that he did and win the race," Lobo said. "He's going to be tough on Saturday. His last two works were very impressive."

How Pico Central performs at six furlongs Saturday will determine whether his owner, Gary Tanaka, will pay the $200,000 supplemental fee to make his horse Breeders' Cup eligible.

Though he doesn't run Midas Eyes, Frankel will send out Cajun Beat and Watchem Smokey. Cajun Beat, previously trained by Stephen Margolis, was transferred to Frankel in July. He has trained well, but this could be a tall order.

"I think he's pretty fit,"Frankel said. "He's going good, he looks good."

Watchem Smokey rallied from 12 lengths back to win a fourth-level allowance race on Sept. 15, his first start after 5 1/2-month layoff. He would benefit the most if Pico Central and Speightstown take the starch out of each other.

The field

Vosburgh Stakes
Purse: $500,000; 6 furlongs; Grade 1

1Cajun BeatC. Velasquez3-1
2SpeightstownJ. Velazquez7-5
3Watchem SmokeyE. Prado8-1
4VoodooJ. Chavez30-1
5EavesdropperR. Migliore30-1
6Pico CentralV. Espinoza8-5

* All starters carry 124 pounds
* DRF line
* Televison: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN