11/22/2003 1:00AM

Balto's best is good enough

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Balto Star and jockey John Velazquez were long gone before runner-up Macaw and third-place finisher Cetewayo found their best stride.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Balto Star is capable of running brilliant races and is also known for throwing in some complete duds. On Saturday at Aqueduct in the Grade 2, $150,000 , Balto Star had on his game face and wired the field for a 3 1/4-length victory.

The late-closing Macaw, the 2-1 favorite, finished second in the 11-horse field of turf runners. Cetewayo was third, a neck behind Macaw. Final Prophecy, Haggs Castle, Deputy Strike, Revved Up, He Flies, Dawn of the Condor, Quiet Ruler, and Tripat completed the order of finish in the final turf stakes of the year in New York.

As expected, Balto Star went to the lead in the 1 3/8-mile Red Smith, which was run over a soft course. Balto Star set fractions of 24.73 seconds, 49.77, 1:15.10, 1:39.62, and 2:05.56 on his way to a final time of 2:18.86.

During the stretch run, Balto Star widened his advantage. Macaw was running strongly at the finish, as was Cetewayo, who trailed the field for six furlongs.

Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Macaw, said he had a difficult time motivating his horse during the early running.

"He flopped out of [the gate] with no enthusiasm," Bridgmohan said. "He wasn't into it the first part. I had to ride him the whole way. He just wasn't handling [the course] today. I didn't think I was going to get anything."

Velazquez said Balto Star, who usually does his best running on firmer ground, handled the going like a pro.

"I was surprised he handled the ground so well," said Velazquez, after winning his third Red Smith. "We haven't run on the turf in a few days and they probably packed it down, and it was pretty tight for this race. He was just galloping out there."

Balto Star, a 5-year-old son of Glitterman, won the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park in July, defeating some of the country's better turf runners, including The Tin Man and Denon. Balto Star lost his next four starts after the United Nations.

"He's one of those in-and-out horses. When things are right he can fire huge, and when things aren't right, he'll throw in a clunker," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Balto Star for Stuart and Anita Subotnick's Anstu Stables.

Pletcher said that Balto Star might run back in the $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder on Dec. 27.