09/19/2001 11:00PM

Balto Star needs lead in Classic


FLORENCE, Ky. - Sports people call it overachieving. Racetrackers call it outrunning your pedigree. The folks at Turfway Park simply call it wonderful.

What is it? The way the Kentucky Cup continues to produce horses who go on to accomplish greater things. The series - a fall fixture at this modest track since its debut in 1994 - earned plaudits after 2000 Kentucky Cup winners Point Given, Captain Steve, Spain, and Caller One went on to win major races around the globe.

The fields for the five Kentucky Cup races Saturday do not have the same sort of promise, but there is sufficient quality nevertheless, with City Zip in the Sprint and Spain back to defend her title in the Turfway Breeders' Cup. Perhaps the most intriguing race is the richest - the $400,000, Grade 2 Classic, in which a pair of talented geldings will race.

One is Balto Star, the speedy 3-year-old who won the Spiral Stakes here in March by nearly 15 lengths. He squares off against 5-year-old Guided Tour, who is enjoying his best year, having already won three Grade 2 handicaps.

The overriding question about the 1 1/8-mile Classic is whether Balto Star, with Pat Day to ride, will be able to build a big lead and become the first horse to sweep Turfway's two richest races.

"I can't worry about that," said Larry Melancon, Guided Tour's regular rider for nearly two years. "If the pace is slow, my horse is usually up close. If it's too fast, then he's back there. We'll just run our race."

There appears to be not much other early speed to challenge Balto Star. Performing Magic and A Fleets Dancer have some early foot, but they are not in the same category as Balto Star, who may be considered for the Breeders' Cup Mile or Turf if he runs well Saturday, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

The two other starters, Fajardo and Da Devil, are late-runners who could be at a disadvantage if the one-mile Turfway oval is playing to speed.

The Classic is run under handicap conditions, with Guided Tour carrying 119 pounds, four to six more than the others. Balto Star gets in with 114.

The Classic will be televised live on a half-hour program on ESPN2, starting at 5 p.m. Eastern. At least two other Cup events also will be shown, on tape.

First post Saturday is noon.