This week, racing catches its breath a bit after Thanksgiving weekend and the Claiming Crown. Still, there is action, and Picks and Ponderings is there. Saturday's card features the final stakes race of the Hawthorne meet: the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity for two-year-old colts and geldings, which both halves of Picks and Ponderings previews jointly. Paul Mazur flies south to Gulfstream for the Grade III Rampart Stakes, a one-turn mile for the distaff set.
This preview, on the other hand, heads a bit further west -- for the only Grade I thoroughbred race of the weekend, Saturday's Starlet Stakes.
Of course, we specify thoroughbred because otherwise, this is not even the only Grade I at Los Alamitos on Saturday. Saturday night's quarter horse card features the Grade I Champion of Champions. There Moonist and Heza Dasha Fire will get their long-awaited showdown, though this space would have no complaints if Far Niente were to spoil the party.
Anyway, back on topic.
The Starlet was previously run at Hollywood Park as the Hollywood Starlet, but moved forty-five minutes southeast after Hollywood ceased operations at the end of last year. The Starlet was originally run at 1 1/16 miles (its current distance) in 1981, though was shortened to a flat mile in 1985. It was stretched back out to 1 1/16 miles for the 1991 renewal, reinstating it as one of the earlier tests of whether a filly will be able to stretch out to the nine-furlong distance of the Kentucky Oaks come May.
Among Starlet Stakes winners, three have won the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Filly: Althea did so in 1983, and then Obviously in 1984. No filly repeated that feat until last year, when Take Charge Brandi drew her championship season to a close with a gutsy Starlet win. The most accomplished of the Starlet winners to date did not win the Eclipse until age three: 1994 winner Serena's Song. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, Serena's Song won seventeen graded stakes races between the ages of two and four, including the 1995 Haskell Invitational (GI). Extending to the breeding shed, count Cara Rafaela (1995) among the most influential winners. In addition to being a multiple graded stakes winner on the track, she went on to produce 2006 Preakness Stakes winner and top sire Bernardini.
Take Charge Brandi clinches the award for Champion Two Year Old Filly with a win in the 2014 Starlet Stakes.
This year's edition of the Starlet drew a field of nine fillies who will vie for a share of a $300,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks Points. Points are allotted 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers.
Morning line odds were not available at original publish time. Edited December 10 to add morning lines.
Los Alamitos Race Course: Saturday, December 12
Race 8: Starlet Stakes (GI), two-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:58pm PST
Finally, Songbird is on the shelf for the winter. With her absence, the west coast two-year-old fillies' division has suddenly become far more wide open. This field epitomizes that, with arguments to be made for most of the nine who entered. Still, this space is looking to the Bob Baffert barn to take this race for the fourth time in his career.
No, not with that one. Not PRETTY N COOL. She threw a clunker as the heavy favourite in the Desi Arnaz last out. Many players may give her a mulligan there. However, Baffert has another in his barn in the Starlet, the old Longer-Priced Stablemate, who needs no mulligan for the Desi Arnaz: TREASURING.
TREASURING not only has the better last-out performance to recommend her here. She also has a win over the Los Alamitos course. The surface and configuration can be a little quirky, a little love-it-or-hate-it, so horses who have a win over it have a solid point in their favour. In that start, two back, she had early contention for the lead but drew off to win by seven and a quarter lengths. She also turned in that performance from the rail, the same post that she draws here. In other words, she is a juvenile who has proven she can handle a far inside draw. Last out, Victor Espinoza rode TREASURING for the first time, and he got her to sit off of pacesetter Lucky Folie early. She made up ground late, though fell half a length short. She gets Espinoza back here. In terms of pace, she could be the speed, though PACIFIC HEAT and PRETTY N COOL have shown good form sending as well. That is why the last race makes her so much more attractive -- it showed that she could turn in a very solid effort even if she was not right on the front. Even so, should PACIFIC HEAT and PRETTY N COOL bide their time, TREASURING could strike the front and save all the ground. With any step forward second off the lay, TREASURING will be a solid contender at a solid price.
The aforementioned PACIFIC HEAT steps beyond Cal-Bred company for the first time -- as well she should, as she enters the Starlet untested. She debuted in a Cal-bred maiden special weight right here at Los Al in September. There she struck the front quickly, and drew off to an easy thirteen-length victory. The Peter Eurton trainee stretched from five and a half furlongs to seven at Del Mar in the Golden State Juvenile Fillies, and showed another side to herself. Instead of striking the front so quickly, she sat off the pace in the early going, and made her move into the stretch. This passing gear could come in handy if TREASURING guns it from the front, or PRETTY N COOL does from the outside. The Starlet will be Pacific Heat's first attempt at a route, but a mile and a sixteenth should be well within the abilities of a daughter of Unusual Heat, and half-sister Long Hot Summer is GIII placed at two turns on grass. Rider Joe Talamo returns from her last-out win, and they should contend seriously once again.
The third slot was a tight call between MAMA'S SUGAR and SURFSIDE TIARA. The latter has five races under her belt to MAMA'S SUGAR's one, including a stakes win two back in the Anoakia. Between the two Jerry Hollendorfer entries, SURFSIDE TIARA is the more attractive. Still, the clunker in the Del Mar Debutante (GI) leaves some class questions, making the potential upside with MAMA'S SUGAR appealing. MAMA'S SUGAR is the least experienced runner in the field, having raced just once. However, that debut was a decisive maiden special weight win at Del Mar on November 27, in which she was midpack, wide, and still drew off to a convincing victory. That was a six and a half furlong maiden special weight, but this filly should improve with distance. She is by Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, out of a mare who liked two turns on the grass. Trainer Peter Miller could not have started the Los Alamitos meet hotter, as he is 10-3-2-2 so far, and rider David Lopez already has three wins and another five money finishes in twenty starts there so far. Lopez rode MAMA'S SUGAR last out -- and should she take a step forward on the stretch out, he could boot her home to an even sweeter win here.
#1 TREASURING (6/1)
#4 PACIFIC HEAT (3/1)
#7 MAMA'S SUGAR (15/1)
Longshot: #2 STREET FANCY (5/1) comes in off a close third-place finish in the Desi Arnaz last out, as the longest shot on the board. That was only her second start. In her maiden win, she stalked the pace, took over, and held on. What made the Desi Arnaz a positive step was that even though she hopped at the break, she remained interested despite bringing up the rear in a short field, and motored home to miss by just half a length. This suggests that STREET FANCY can handle some adversity. The humans also help her case. Big-money rider Mike Smith, who piloted her in both her maiden win and the Desi Arnaz, returns to the irons here. Trainer Philip d'Amato wins at 26% (with a +$1.66 ROI), with 61% in the money, sending horses sprint-sprint-route, and also wins at 20% of the time with first-time routers. Though the underneath of her pedigree suggests elongated sprints, STREET FANCY is by Street Sense, who could impart some stamina. Particularly with the humans behind her, it will be worth betting she will step forward at two turns.
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