Speightstown, with John Velazquez aboard, wins the Churchill Downs Handicap.

Speightstown, with John Velazquez aboard, wins the Churchill Downs Handicap.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Speightstown Takes Churchill Downs Handicap

Speightstown went wire-to-wire to win the $221,800 Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) Saturday as odds-on favorite Congaree faltered.

John Velazquez shot Speightstown to the lead from the inside post and no one ever challenged the son of Gone West in the seven-furlong race. The 6-year-old horse cut fractions of :22.48, :45.27, 1:08.87 and completed the distance in 1:21.38 to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

"I was talking with Todd in the paddock and I said that I hope they don't press him today," Velazquez said. " It turned out to be easier than I thought. Nobody went with me and it made it extremely easy for him."

Key Deputy was scratched, reducing the field to seven.

Speightstown is owned by Laura and Eugene Melnyk and trained by Todd Pletcher. The trainer won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday with Ahsado.

"With the California horses in there I thought it was going to be a 44 and change, 43 and change," Pletcher said. "When they threw down 22 and a couple and then 45 and he was still going pretty easily, I thought he would be tough to run down. He's really one of those horses who thrives at seven furlongs. His record is sensational.

The track was rated sloppy early on the card but was switched to good prior to the Churchill Downs Handicap, run as the fifth of Saturday's 12 races.

Congaree had raced only once this year, at Santa Anita the last day of January in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II). He was scheduled to run at Keeneland but had a bit of colic following his flight from California which . He skipped the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II). Congaree loomed a threat on the turn while three wide but failed to respond, losing by 7 1/2 lengths.

McCann's Mojave raced second the entire way. Publication came on to get third. Congaree finished fourth.

"He wasn't running at all," Congaree's trainer Bob Baffert said. "He wasn't in the race. He just didn't want to run. I don't know."

Speightstown paid $12.80, $5.60, and $3.60. McCann's Mojave returned $6.60 and $4.20, and Publication was worth $3.40.

The winner captured his third race in four starts since returning to action after a 21-month layoff following a second-place finish in the Amsterdam (gr. II) at Saratoga in August 2001. He won the Artax Handicap at Gulfstream Park by 4 1/2 lengths in his last outing on March 27.

"He's always been a talented horse, but was set back by some minor injuries," Pletcher noted. "When he's on his 'A' game, he is very, very good."

Overall, the chestnut has a 7-2-1 record in 12 starts. Saturdy's victory, worth $137,516, improved Speightstown's career bankroll to $410,216.

Aaron and Marie Jones bred Speightstown, who is out of the Storm Cat mare Silken Cat, in Kentucky.

(Chart, Equibase)