Picking top sprinter tough task

Nov 2, 2004 3:49 AM

Pollsters labeled the Presidential election too close to call, but it might be a landslide compared to the Eclipse Award voting for the year’s top sprinter.

Speightstown’s win in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint blurred the picture. Did his 11/4-length victory woo enough votes to earn him the title, or will the fact that Pico Central buried him in the Vosburgh, in addition to registering other significant accomplishments, carry the day?

"The Eclipse Award will be an argued point," said trainer Todd Pletcher after Speightstown’s triumph. "He and Pico Central have one loss, but I think if you want to be a champion, you have to show up when everyone else does."

Easy for him to say. Owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk didn’t have to come up with $200,000 to supplement Speightstown to the Sprint. Owner Gary Tanaka opted not to spend that sum to supplement Pico Central, feeling his South American speedster already had done enough to merit the Eclipse, not to mention Tanaka’s disdain for his odds of 3½-2. He would have earned $551,200 for putting up $200,000, had Pico Central run and won.

Paulo Lobo, Pico Central’s cosmopolitan trainer, climbed aboard his soap box after Speightstown’s win in a bona fide attempt to lobby voters before they mark their ballots in late December.

"I don’t have any doubt that Pico Central deserves the Eclipse because he defeated Speightstown in his home (in the Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont Park by 4½ lengths, although Speightstown bobbled at the start)," said Lobo, a native of Brazil who turns 36 on Nov. 21. "Pico Central won on both coasts. He ran the second-fastest seven furlongs at Aqueduct, passing the six furlong marker in under 1:08. He ran the fastest 6 ½ furlongs in 11 years when he won the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita.

He won the Metropolitan Mile and he stumbled at the start. If Speightstown’s excuse for losing the Vosburgh was stumbling at the start, my horse stumbled in the Metropolitan Mile and won. What does he need to prove?"

Case closed, according to Lobo, although Pico Central can embellish his resume with a victory in his next race, the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 27.

There were other open and shut cases after the 21st Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

Sweet Catomine clinched 2-year-old filly and the overall 2-year-old crown as well with an authoritative 3 3/4-length romp in the Juvenile Fillies.

Ouija Board, with a 1 1/2-length win in the Filly & Mare Turf, likely earned an award as top turf mare despite winning only one race in the United States.

Distaff winner Ashado earned 3-year-old filly honors and, despite a trouble second to 27-1 longshot Better Talk Now in the Turf, Kitten’s Joy has done enough to be named male grass champion.

Voters must decide between incumbent Azeri and retired Sightseek for best older dirt mare.

With Roman Ruler’s disappointing fifth-place finish in the Juvenile, 2-year-old colt honors are likely to go to runner-up Afleet Alex for consistency, if nothing else.

Singletary scored a popular victory (at least for his connections) in the Mile and could win honors by default in an open division.

Bobby Frankel says it’s a "no-brainer" for Ghostzapper to be named Horse of the Year after his three-length triumph in the Classic, making him 4-for-4 this year.

He’s probably right, at least with the voters, who have short memories and are likely to dismiss Smarty Jones at the polls. Still, Smarty was unbeaten until losing the Belmont to Birdstone, and Smarty did resuscitate a dormant sport with victories in two classic races, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. It wasn’t his fault he was retired after the Belmont and never faced older horses.

You’d get no argument from me if Smarty was named Horse of the Year. At the very least, he should win an Eclipse as top 3-year-old. Birdstone? He was a non-menacing seventh in the Classic, beaten more than 12 lengths. His greatest claim to fame is likely to be as a trivia answer to the question, "Who prevented Smarty Jones from winning the Triple Crown?"

The homestretch

Best line on Breeders’ Cup day was uttered by Jose Valdivia Jr. when asked about the dawdling pace he set aboard Moscow Burning in the Filly & Mare Turf: "It was so slow at the quarter pole, I could have ordered a pizza."

”¡ In an attempt to end his latest suspension and resume riding, Patrick Valenzuela is scheduled to appear before an administrative law judge on Nov. 12.

”¡ Nick Cosato, who was Valenzuela’s agent before opting to represent Corey Nakatani, said at the start of the Oak Tree meet that they were out to win the riding title. Nakatani did, edging Victor Espinoza, 21-19.

”¡ Best thing about the Fox telecast of the World Series: Donna Summer singing God Bless America. The Disco Queen looks great and still has a great set of pipes.

”¡ Lookalikes: Jim Edmonds and Burt Lancaster.

”¡ Scott (0-for-15) Rolen picked the World Series to hit like he was still playing for the Phils.