01/04/2007 12:00AM

Ballast facing tough competition

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Put a line through his one race in Canada, and Ballast has been a model of class and consistency since migrating to the United States from his native Ireland. Trainer Graham Motion believes an ugly 13th-place finish in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile in September was the result of several unfortunate circumstances and has since been proven an aberration. Assuming he's right, there is good reason to consider Ballast a major threat Saturday in the $100,000 Ft. Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Ballast, with Rafael Bejarano to ride, is one of the turf-course maximum of 12 starters entered in the 53rd running of the Ft. Lauderdale. Except for the Woodbine Mile debacle, Ballast has 3 wins, 1 second, and 2 thirds from 6 starts since Motion assumed his care last year. His last race resulted in a sharp triumph in the Dec. 2 Tropical Turf Handicap at Calder.

"He's not an easy horse to ride, and Rafael has been able to figure him out," said Motion, noting that Bejarano is 2 for 2 aboard Ballast. "He's a pretty nice horse, but he's been at it for a while since last spring, so I'm thinking about letting him do whatever he can in this race Saturday, and then maybe give him a little time off before we gear him back up for the summer."

Ballast will face some pretty salty opponents in the 1 1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale.

Minister's Joy enters off a rousing allowance victory at Calder. Dreadnaught is a classy gelding with more than $565,000 in earnings. Interpatation is a steady closer with two wins and a second in three tries over the Gulfstream turf. Old Dodge, who figures prominently on the early pace after exiting several shorter turf races, has registered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in four of his last five outings. And Saint Stephen, trained by Christophe Clement, posted a terrific comeback victory last month, rallying to win the Grade 3 Native Diver at Hollywood Park.

One horse conspicuous by his absence from the Ft. Lauderdale lineup is Outperformance, who was scratched last weekend from the Pete Axthelm at Calder.

"He popped a temperature of 103 on us and lost his appetite," said trainer Rick Violette. "He was fine soon after that, but we did miss a few days of training with him. It's a shame because he'd been doing so good."