01/28/2005 12:00AM

Sprint win spurs Speightstown to ultimate honor

Speightstown came from farther back than usual to win the BC Sprint.

Todd Pletcher's faith in Speightstown never wavered.

Even though Speightstown lost to Pico Central in the Vosburgh Stakes, won a Breeders' Cup Sprint that lacked the presence of Pico Central, and trailed Pico Central in Grade 1 victories by 3-1, Pletcher told everyone who was smart enough to listen that was still worthy of a divisional championship.

At Monday night's Eclipse Award dinner, Pletcher's faith was rewarded when Speightstown was named champion sprinter.

"We felt that, historically, the most important race in the sprint division is the Breeders' Cup Sprint," Pletcher explained. "Really, that's true of every division. The most important race for any Eclipse Award is the corresponding Breeders' Cup race.

"I have the utmost respect for Pico Central. But both horses had blemishes on their records. The thing is, I never felt like the Vosburgh was a fair indication of what our horse was all about. He stumbled coming out of there, and the track was not what we expected it to be. It was deep, cuppy, tiring. And, taking nothing away from Voodoo, but when Voodoo beat us" - for second as the rank outsider in the betting - "we felt our horse just didn't run his race. We threw that race out, regrouped, went on to the Breeders' Cup at a neutral and fair track, and won what we consider to be the biggest sprint race of the year."

Many expected the voting in the sprint division to be tight. It indeed resulted in the closest vote among the 2004 equine awards, but to the surprise of many, including Pletcher, it wasn't as close as expected, with Speightstown beating Pico Central by a 56-vote margin, 157-101.

"After the Breeders' Cup, I felt like it would be very close," Pletcher said. "And then, when Pico Central got beat in the Cigar Mile, even though many may not consider a mile race a sprint, I thought that if there were some voters on the fence, they may now come down in favor of us."

Undoubtedly, it was his victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint that carried the vote for Speightstown, a performance that was noteworthy because he proved best after coming from a little farther off the early pace than he had in his previous stakes wins.

"We wanted him to be close," Pletcher said. "But while he didn't stumble out of the gate like he did in the Vosburgh, he didn't fire out of the gate like he often did. Although he was in a good spot, I was unsure down the backstretch, but then things opened up for him on the rail into the stretch.

"The amazing thing about him is he had tremendous speed, but he also had the ability to still accelerate from fast fractions and finish strongly the last eighth and sixteenth, like he showed in winning the Vanderbilt and True North. I think that ability helped him come from a little farther off the pace in the Breeders' Cup."

Speightstown, a Gone West horse out of the Storm Cat mare Silken Cat, was bred by Aaron and Marie Jones and raced for owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk. He has been retired to stud at WinStar Farm in Kentucky as a 7-year-old with a career record of 10-2-2 from 16 starts.