Updated on 09/17/2011 1:05PM

Balto Star shaky favorite

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Balto Star, winning the Red Smith, faces myriad obstacles Sunday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Balto Star will be a deserving favorite in Sunday's $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, but he is far from a cinch in a highly competitive renewal of the Grade 1 race run at 1 3/8 miles on turf.

In addition to spotting 4 to 8 pounds to seven rivals, the front-running and Kicken Kris, the Brazilian Group 1 winner Hard Buck, and in-form stretch-runners Request for Parole and Magic Mecke.

Though he has won 11 of 33 starts and has earned almost $2 million, Balto Star has been known to be inconsistent. After finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Turf in October, Balto Star ended his 5-year-old campaign with gate-to-wire victories in the Red Smith and W.L. McKnight Handicap, both Grade 2 events. This will be Balto Star's first start in eight weeks.

"Every once in a while he'll throw in a dud, but on the turf it's unlikely as long as the pace scenario's proper," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "I think we got what we wanted out of giving him a couple of months between races. He's gained some weight; he's fresh, but he's trained very well and he should be fit."

Balto Star, the 122-pound highweight, will break from post 7 under John Velazquez.

Man From Wicklow won this race last year, but missed the last eight months of 2003 due to injury. Though he finished last in the Sunshine Millions Turf here in January, trainer Rick Violette has put a positive spin on that result.

"Originally, I was disappointed; in hindsight, it was probably a good prep," Violette said. "He just can't run that fast. It was a mile and an eighth sprint. Every eighth was run in 11 [seconds] and change. They ran a mile and an eighth in 1:45-and-three [fifths] and he ran in 1:46-and three or 1:47, and that's pretty good for having not run in a long time."

Violette believes the stretch out to 11 furlongs should be a plus for Man From Wicklow. Another plus is having Jerry Bailey in the irons. Bailey has won seven of the 18 runnings of this race.

Kicken Kris began his turf career by winning two races over this course last winter. He would go on to win the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in August and the Grade 3 Lawrence Realization at Belmont in October. He was beaten only one length in a slowly run Hollywood Derby in November. Michael Matz, the trainer of Kicken Kris, is adept at getting horses to win off a layoff.

Like Balto Star, Request for Parole enjoyed success on dirt before eventually finding his niche on the grass. He is 2 for 2 this year, including a victory in the Grade 3 Mac Diarmida Handicap last month, and has a 3-1-0 record from four turf starts at Gulfstream. At 116 pounds, Request for Parole gets six pounds from Balto Star. Jose Santos, who has won this race four times, has the call from the rail.

Hard Buck and Magic Mecke could offer the best value in this race. Hard Buck, a Group 1 winner at 10 furlongs in Brazil, went 3 for 3 on turf in North America last year when conservatively spotted by trainer Ken McPeek. He finished fourth in the off-the-turf Canadian Turf Handicap last out, but McPeek said he needed to get a race into him for this.

Magic Mecke had a tough trip when fourth, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths by Proud Man, in the Sunshine Millions Turf. He tries 11 furlongs for the first time.

"I'm going to be optimistic going in and say that distance won't be a problem," trainer Eddie Plesa said. "But, for my two-cents worth, until you try them at that distance you never know for sure."

The field

Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap

Purse: $250,000; 1 3/8 miles turf; Grade 1

1Request for ParoleJ. Santos1165-1
2Kicken KrisJ. Castellano1189-2
3Man From WicklowJ. Bailey1183-1
4Magic MeckeE. Coa11420-1
5Quest StarR. Douglas 11515-1
6Hard BuckE. Prado1174-1
7Balto StarJ. Velazquez1222-1
8Slew ValleyJ. Chavez11712-1

* Odds by Art Gropper