09/21/2001 11:00PM

Guided Tour by a neck in Classic

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Guided Tour never let Balto Star get out of his reach before finally wearing him down in the showcase event of the Kentucky Cup series Saturday at Turfway Park, the $400,000 Classic.

Balto Star, the even-money favorite under Pat Day, figured as the dominant speed in the 1 1/8-mile Classic. But jockey Larry Melancon kept after Guided Tour so that Balto Star never had much more than a one-length lead. Those two horses turned the Classic into a virtual match race, with Guided Tour edging away to win by a neck after a prolonged duel. A Fleets Dancer finished third, another 8 1/4 lengths back

Guided Tour returned $5 as the second choice in a field of six. The 3-2 exacta paid $10.

"He has stalker's speed, and I know Balto Star goes off on the lead by himself," said Melancon. "I just wanted not to let that horse get away."

Down the stretch, "it was just a matter of who had more," he said.

With an estimated crowd of 5,000 turning out for the eighth Kentucky Cup on a gorgeous afternoon, Guided Tour notched his fourth victory in a Grade 2 handicap this year, finishing in 1:47.90 over a fast track. Owned by Morton Fink and trained by Niall O'Callaghan, Guided Tour is a 5-year-old Hansel gelding who now has earned over $1.3 million this year.

O'Callaghan has said he may try the Japan Cup with Guided Tour, although the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Classic remains a possibility. Last year, Guided Tour finished 12th in the BC Classic.

Balto Star, a 3-year-old gelding whose only previous race at Turfway was a 12 3/4-length victory in the Spiral Stakes in March, is a candidate for either the Breeders' Cup Mile or Turf.

Winners of the other Cup races Saturday were Repent in the Juvenile, Trip in the Turfway Breeders' Cup, Snow Ridge in the Sprint, and Playing 'n Gold in the Juvenile Fillies. Only Playing 'n Gold was a betting favorite.