Eugene and Laura Melnyk's Speightstown, making his first appearance in more than 21 months, upset Breeders' Cup Classic champion Volponi by a long neck in Friday's $56,000 allowance feature at Belmont Park.
The 5-year-old Volponi was making his first start since his 6 1/2-length triumph at odds of 43-1 in the Classic at Arlington in October, was sent off as the 2-5 favorite in the six-horse field.
Ridden by Jose Santos, Volponi was well off the early pace of the seven-furlong dash, made a sweeping five-wide move on the turn and drew even with the winner in the stretch, but could not match strides.
"He was okay," said Santos, who won the Kentucky Derby last Saturday aboard Funny Cide. "It was a good race to lead him up to the big races. It would have been nice if he won, but he got tired a little bit. He'll be ready for next time. He came back in one piece."
Trainer Phil Johnson accounted for a minus show pool of $39,668.82 ($256,513 of the $285,517 show pool was bet on Volponi), took blinkers off the 5-year-old Cryptoclearance horse for his seasonal debut.
"He got beat by a nice horse," said Johnson, who said the son of Cryptoclearance will likely start next in the $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) at nine furlongs on June 18. "And he will wear no blinkers in the Brooklyn Handicap. I would have liked to have won today, of course, but I couldn't be happier with the outcome. He pulled up good and galloped out well."
Speightstown, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred chestnut son of Gone West who is trained by Todd Pletcher, had been sidelined since August 3, 2001. The winning time was 1:22 3/5 on a fast track.
Jockey John Velazquez hustled Speightstown out of the gate from the inside post and he dueled with Harmony Hall and rider Eibar Coa for the early lead through swift fractions of :22 1/5, :45 1/5 and 1:10. Voloponi, last early, rallied from the extreme outside to engage the pacesetters and Reason to Hail in mid-stretch. Speightstown and Volponi continued on willingly. Reason to Hail held on to be third.
Speightstown, who was second to City Zip in the Amsterdam (gr. II) at Saratoga in his last start, has won five of nine career outings with earnings of about $190,000.
Pletcher said the $250,000 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at six furlongs on Belmont Stakes Day June 7 seems his likely next stop.
Sent off at 9-2, the winner paid $11.40, $3 and $2.10. Volponi returned $2.10 and $2.10. Reason to Hail paid $2.10. The $2 exacta was worth $28. Griffinite was scratched.