03/25/2005 12:00AM

Defending his title

Meteor Storm makes his second start off a long layoff Sunday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - It was in last year's San Luis Rey Stakes when Meteor Storm began his march toward the top of the long-distance turf division, a position he claimed with a subsequent victory in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park. After a lengthy vacation necessitated by a bleeding incident at Monmouth Park, Meteor Storm is ready to begin anew.

A sharp comeback race three weeks ago in the Kilroe Mile indicated that Meteor Storm has come back as good as he left. Now, he stretches out to 1 1/2 miles to defend his title in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Luis Rey on Sunday at Santa Anita.

"Now, they're playing his game," said his trainer, Wally Dollase.

finished fourth in the Kilroe, but got a 106 Beyer Speed Figure, the second-best number of his career. "To get a 106 Beyer first time out in eight months was quite an accomplishment," Dollase said. "He ran a great race."

To win the San Luis Rey, Meteor Storm will have to defeat 10 rivals, including the tenacious Star Over the Bay, who won the Sunshine Millions Turf in his last start. Star Over the Bay carries top weight of 120 pounds, two more than Meteor Storm.

has won 4 of his last 5 starts. He also has a tactical advantage in that he again figures to set a leisurely pace.

Tyler Baze, his regular rider, is going to attempt to fly halfway around the world for the mount. Baze was scheduled to ride Saturday night in Dubai, travel from Dubai to London right after those races, then catch a Sunday morning flight to Los Angeles that is scheduled to arrive a few hours before the San Luis Rey.

Bobby Frankel is sending out , who is moving back to the turf after a poor comeback try on dirt in the San Antonio Handicap, and European import Kurm, who won a pair of listed stakes races in France last year. In one of those races, Kurm defeated Cherry Mix, who subsequently finished second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

"I think his form's good," Frankel said Friday. "He's trained fine. He seems like a good horse."

Frankel said was scheduled to run here last year, but he had surgery to remove an ankle chip soon after arriving in the United States. So, he has not raced for nearly 10 months.

won a first-level allowance race going 1 1/2 miles on March 5. The second-place finisher in that race, At Dawn, came back to win on Wednesday.

"He's much more mature this year. He's more focused," said Balestrini's trainer, Neil Drysdale. "The competition last time wasn't very strong, but he did it very well."