01/17/2008 1:00AM

Bold Start enters new phase

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A year ago, Bold Start was being touted as a possible Kentucky Derby candidate following an impressive allowance victory and even better second-place finish in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes during the Gulfstream Park meet.

Bold Start's Kentucky Derby dreams ended after he finished third in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby. Now, trainer Ken McPeek is hoping the 4-year-old Bold Start can elevate his game to the next level as an older horse, beginning Saturday, when he returns from a five-month vacation in a $75,000 optional claiming sprint at Gulfstream Park.

Bold Start has run just five times since running in the 1 1/8-mile Illinois Derby. His best performances were a third in the Derby Trial and an optional claiming win over the Churchill Downs turf early last summer. Bold Start has not raced since finishing sixth behind Hard Spun in the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga on Aug. 25.

"He ran hard at 2 and 3 and had a little issue that needed some time after the King's Bishop, so we just gave him a break," said McPeek. "We tinkered a lot with him early in his career, and he ran relatively well under all circumstances but just never could find the Grade 1 level."

Bold Start has worked six times since arriving at Gulfstream in early December, and McPeek is confident that he's fit and ready to go six furlongs on Saturday.

"The layoff is not a problem and he really does like this track, so I expect him to run well," McPeek said.

Bold Start's competition will include another former graded-stakes performer, Saint Daimon, who has been away since November 2006. Graded-stakes-placed at 3, Saint Daimon seeks his first victory since winning an optional claiming race at Belmont 20 months ago. He is training spectacularly, posting bullet works of 45.60 seconds for a half-mile and five furlongs in 59.60 here earlier this month for trainer Allen Jerkens.

City Dweller is also coming off a long layoff. He has been idle since May 2006. Trained by Christophe Clement, City Dweller won Hawthorne's Lost Code Stakes at 3.

Bushmills Best posted a career-best

99 Beyer Speed Figure wiring similar optional claiming competition on Dec. 23 at Calder but remains eligible under the third-level allowance conditions of this race because he competed under a $40,000 claiming price that day.

West to Durango is the only horse in the field of 11 who will run for the $75,000 tag on Saturday.