Updated on 09/17/2011 1:43PM

Balto Star all the way

Jean Raftery
Balto Star ($6.60) cruises through the stretch en route to a 1 1/2-length front-running victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 W L McKnight Handicap at Calder on Saturday.

MIAMI - Trainer Todd Pletcher had little doubt Balto Star could stay 1 1/2 miles "under the proper circumstances," and those circumstances presented themselves at Calder on Saturday, when Balto Star led throughout to post a 1 1/2-length victory over California invader Continuously in the $200,000 . The Grade 2 McKnight was one of four stakes presented on Saturday's Grand Slam 2 program.

The "circumstances" got a lot better for Balto Star and Pletcher after Gran Cesare, the one horse expected to press Balto Star for the lead, was scratched from the McKnight lineup earlier in the day. That left Balto Star and jockey John Velazquez alone on an easy lead and they made the most of the opportunity. Balto Star was able to set relatively slow fractions of 48.95 seconds, 1:13.60, and 1:37.54, then had enough left in the charge to the wire to hold off strong bids from Continuously and Rowans Park.

Continuously came into the McKnight off a victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. After biding his time near mid-pack for the opening mile, he launched a furious bid while angling four wide into the stretch to move within easy striking distance of Balto Star. But Balto Star had plenty in reserve and was able to surge clear once again as they approached the finish line.

Rowans Park also loomed a major threat in early stretch but faltered late and finished another half length behind Continuously.

Balto Star, a son of Glitterman owned by Stuart Subotnick, paid $6.60. His final time of 2:24.87 was nearly two seconds faster than the time Volga posted winning the La Prevoyante over the same distance earlier on the card.

Balto Star, who won the Grade 1 United Nations and Grade 2 Red Smith handicaps in similar wire-to-wire fashion, is now less than $50,000 shy of reaching the $2 million mark in career earnings.

"He was the speed of the race after the other speed [Gran Cesare] scratched," said Velazquez. "It worked out pretty well for me. He gets brave and gets a big heart when he gets loose on the lead like that."