03/18/2004 12:00AM

Quest Star after Pan Am repeat

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Quest Star led every step of the way to upset Man From Wicklow in the 2003 Pan American Handicap. But trainer Elliott Walden doesn't necessarily want to see Quest Star in front again when he returns to defend his title in the $200,000 Pan American on Saturday.

"Even though he won this race on the lead last year, we've tried him several times in front since then and it hasn't worked out," said Walden. "He's what I call very pace-sensitive. By that I mean he paces himself and pretty much runs the same speed whether he's going a mile and one-eighth or a mile and one-half. If that's fast enough to have him in front Saturday, then so be it. But he's not like a Balto Star who has to be on the lead to win."

Balto Star would have been the pacesetter and heavy favorite to win the 1 1/2-mile Pan Am, but was not entered. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he found some filling in Balto Star's right front ankle and did not want to take a chance on running him.

is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup on Feb. 22. Quest Star was within easy striking distance entering the stretch but lacked a final rally and was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Hard Buck.

"I was a little disappointed in his last race," said Walden, who still thought the effort was creditable. "Turning for home, I thought he was going to win it."

Man From Wicklow was the 3-5 favorite when second to Quest Star in the 2003 Pan Am. He made only one more start before going to the sidelines for nine months and has been a disappointment in his first two starts on the comeback trail, including a seventh-place finish in defense of his title in the Gulfstream Park BC Handicap.

finished a fast-closing fourth, a neck in front of Quest Star, in the Gulfstream BC Handicap. He is in peak form, having won his previous two starts, including the Grade 3 Mac Diarmida Handicap earlier in the meet.

Charge might be the biggest question mark in the field, as he is making only his second start against graded company and his first beyond nine furlongs. He comes off a sharp second-level allowance victory when rallying from near the rear of the pack with an explosive late burst of speed.

Megantic and the entry of Blueeyes and Believe I Can Fly round out the field.