Updated on 09/17/2011 9:53AM

Balto Star best in Whirlaway


NEW ORLEANS - Balto Star last won a stakes race in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby some 22 months ago. Balto Star was a speedball then, going straight the front and galloping his rivals into submission, but the rating tactics he's learned with maturity ended his stakes drought Sunday at Fair Grounds. Settling comfortably into an easy stride well behind Bonapaw's surprisingly slow pace, Balto Star passed Bonapaw at the top of the stretch and went onto an easy two-and-a-half length win in the .

Bonapaw, stretching out from years of sprint racing, held the key to the Whirlaway, since his sprinter's speed would kill off any pace horse that challenged for the early lead. Nobody did, and Bonapaw was clear by at least four lengths by the time he'd run a quarter-mile in a slow 24.03 seconds. Balto Star led the second flight of horses, rating comfortably under jockey Eddie Martin.

"I talked to (trainer Todd) Pletcher this morning, and it was our strategy was to let the deuce (Bonapaw) go and just sit second," Martin said. "That's exactly what happened. He was very comfortable out there. I could have been a lot farther back today and he wouldn't have cared."

The pace in the Whirlaway never really quickened, and after six furlongs in 1:12.98, Bonapaw was still there. But Balto Star and Martin were breathing down his neck, and by the time the pair straightened away in the stretch, Balto Star had hit the front. Bonapaw never stopped running and held on gamely for third, beaten less than a length for second by Mineshaft, the favorite.

"We had to take him out of his game, and he didn't mind it at all," jockey Willie Martinez told trainer Norman Miller and Bonapaw's owners, Jim and Dennis Richard. Bonapaw's connections said he will go on to the New Orleans Handicap.

Mineshaft had raced close to the lead winning the Diplomat Way Handicap, but raced in mid-pack Sunday before rallying late for second.

"I thought he ran well," trainer Neil Howard said. "There was a little traffic in the lane, but they weren't going to beat Balto Star."

Balto Star, who's owned by Anstu Stables, flew here Wednesday from trainer Pletcher's base in South Florida. He took all the early betting action Sunday and wound up the 5-2 favorite in the Whirlaway, paying $7 to win. He ran one and one-sixteenth miles in 1:43.74 over fast going.