12/23/2003 1:00AM

Balto Star's speed, stamina put to test


MIAMI - Can Balto Star effectively stay 1 1/2 miles if he gets outrun to the lead? That could be the key question in the $200,000 , one of four stakes races on Saturday's Grand Slam II program at Calder.

The McKnight will share top billing on the Grand Slam II card, along with its filly counterpart, the $200,000 La Prevoyante Handicap. Both races offer Grade 2 status. The Grade 3, $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap and the $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap will complete a special all-stakes pick four wager.

Balto Star will carry high weight of 121 pounds in the McKnight, one more than he carried when he won the Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap by 3 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct in his last race. Balto Star won that race in wire-to-wire fashion, the same method he used to upset the Grade 1 United Nations earlier this season. Those two races were at 1 3/8 miles. He has yet to finish better than third in three starts at 1 1/2 miles.

"Eleven furlongs around three turns looks like his most effective distance," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "A mile and one-half is probably testing his limits, although I think he can handle it under the proper circumstances. By that, I mean as long as he doesn't get caught up in a speed duel."

Balto Star could get tested early in the McKnight by Gran Cesare, who stretches out off a wire-to-wire win against much softer competition Dec. 12.

"I don't necessarily think we have to be in front to win," said Pletcher. "If somebody else wants the lead I'm sure Johnny [Velazquez] will take back and make one run at some point in the race."

If Balto Star finds the added distance and pace pressure too much to handle, the list of potential beneficiaries includes Cetewayo and Macaw, along with California invaders Continuously and Runaway Dancer.

Macaw outfinished Cetewayo by a neck for second in the Red Smith, increasing his bankroll to nearly $500,000 for the year. Macaw, who is most effective on soft courses, also finished second in the Grade 1 Canadian International and Sword Dancer handicaps. He is winless on the year.

Cetewayo, 9, finished second in the Grade 3 Sycamore Breeders' Cup at Keeneland before finishing third in the Red Smith.

Continuously ships in for Bobby Frankel off a victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup via the disqualification of stablemate Epicentre, but he may be facing slightly tougher opposition in the McKnight.