10/07/2008 11:00PM

Old-timers seek a return to form

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With 13 victories, including four in graded stakes, and a collective $1.2 million in earnings on turf, old-timers Icy Atlantic and Ballast are standouts on class in Friday night's Grade 3, $150,000 Cliff Hanger at the Meadowlands. But the 7-year-olds aren't exactly reliable these days, which makes it tempting to shop for a price in the 1 1/16-mile grass stakes.

Good enough to win the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap in April 2007, Icy Atlantic is winless in six starts since getting up by a neck in the Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth Park 13 months ago. He has raced just twice since May, most recently closing from last to finish second as the 2-1 favorite in last month's Red Bank.

Ballast, two-time winner of the Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap in 2006 and 2007, failed badly in his only two starts this season, beating only two horses in a minor turf stakes at Colonial Downs and finishing last of nine in his first attempt on a synthetic surface at Presque Isle Downs.

Icy Atlantic, trained by Todd Pletcher, and Ballast, from the barn of Graham Motion, must still be respected because of their past accomplishments and sharp connections. Better value, however, probably lies elsewhere.

One sleeper is Nergal, a 5-year-old French-bred gelding who has won 2 of 3 starts this season and is moving up to face graded stakes company for the first time.

Last time out, Nergal finished third in a $100,000 optional claimer at Belmont, which turned out to be a key race. The runner-up, Formal Decree, came back to win an overnight stakes last week with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. Fifth-place finisher Steve's Double returned to win the $200,000 Unbridled at Louisiana Downs with a 93 Beyer.

Wheels Up at Noon earned a career-best 102 Beyer winning the $200,000 Caesar Rodney at Delaware Park two starts ago and may have bounced off that effort in the Red Bank. Given nearly six weeks to recover, he's eligible to rebound.

Kiss the Kid was overmatched against Big Brown, Proudinsky, and Shakis in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes last time out, but has finished second or third against graded stakes company four times since last December and could surprise at big odds.