05/08/2003 11:00PM

Volponi second in return

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The layoff horse won, but it wasn't Volponi. The Breeders' Cup Classic winner was the prohibitive 2-5 favorite against five other sprinters in Friday's $56,000 classified allowance feature at Belmont Park, but he fell a neck short to Speightstown, a 5-year-old horse who had not raced since a second-place finish at Saratoga back on Aug. 3, 2001.

On a fast track that was noticeably slower than it had been for the first two days of the meet, Speightstown alternated for the lead with Harmony Hall through opening fractions of 22.26 and 45.37, as Volponi dropped back after a clean break and trailed the field.

Volponi swept up five wide under Jose Santos while rallying on the turn and wrested a short lead from Speightstown in midstretch after six furlongs in 1:10.02, but Speightstown battled back gamely beneath John Velazquez to edge away by a neck at the wire after seven furlongs in 1:22.69.

"He just ran out of training about 50 yards from the wire," quipped Volponi's trainer, Phil Johnson. "I would have liked to have won, of course, but I couldn't be happier with the outcome. He pulled up good and galloped out well."

Johnson said that Volponi's first stakes objective for his 5-year-old campaign remains the nine-furlong Brooklyn Handicap on June 14. He added that Volponi, who raced with blinkers off on Friday, would not wear blinkers in the Brooklyn, either.

"It was a good race to lead him up to the big races," said Santos. "He'll be ready for next time."

The Todd Pletcher-trained Speightstown paid $11.40 as the second choice and improved to five wins from his nine lifetime starts. He is targeted for the True North Breeders' Cup Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day, June 7.