The focus out east is on the older set. A group of three-and-up dirt sprinters clashes in the Sugar Swirl Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream, opening the graded stakes portion of their winter meet. Start heading west, and the focus falls more and more sharply on the two-year-old set. Saturday at Hawthorne is the final stakes day of the season, and Illinois-bred juveniles stretch out to a mile and a sixteenth for the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante and the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity.
Further west comes the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos. The race 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), 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, two have won the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Filly: Althea in 1983, and Obviously in 1984. 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.
This year’s Starlet, in its first edition at Los Alamitos, drew a field of seven juvenile fillies to contend for a $350,000 purse. In addition to the purse, Road to the Kentucky Oaks points are up for grabs: 10, 4, 2, and 1 for the first-, second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers.
Morning lines for the Starlet Stakes were not available at the original publish time. Updated December 11th with morning line odds.
Saturday, December 13, Los Alamitos Thoroughbred, Race 8, post time 4:00 pm PT
Starlet Stakes (GI), two-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt
Come we now to the Starlet, the final Grade I of the year for juvenile fillies. In June, buzz surrounded the regally-bred TAKE CHARGE BRANDI, convincing winner of a baby race at Churchill Downs in June. She could not hold off Fashion Alert in her graded stakes debut at the Spa in July. After three straight losses by double-digit lengths, her bandwagon in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile consisted of owner Willis Horton, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, jockey Victor Espinoza, and possibly a few bettors who either were named Brandi or liked the number 6.
How times have changed in the last month and a half: TAKE CHARGE BRANDI now sits among the top of the two-year-old filly Eclipse award heap, only possibly rivalled by turfer Lady Eli. She wired the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at 61/1 odds, and people cried speed bias. The track may have helped her along, but she returned in the Delta Downs Princess (GIII) last out and proved she was not a one-trick pony, in more ways than one. Not only did she prove that she could again win in graded stakes company, but she also proved she could get the job done from just off the pace early. She let Vivian Da Bling set the early fractions, pushed her along, took charge, and well rebuffed Skipalute. She probably still needs to be near the lead — but, she does not have to be on it, and anything approximating her recent form should get her near the fron against this field. Though TAKE CHARGE BRANDI will likely go off the favourite, her speed combined with the rating ability that she showed in the Delta Princess make her dangerous. She could end up the speed of the speed, but FEATHERED, MAYBELLENE, and possibly even DON’T BLAME ME or MAJESTIC PRESENCE could be trying to get up there as well. If Victor Espinoza can read the pace well enough and sit her off if she needs, she has two ways to win. The aforementioned FEATHERED has only won once so far, and her maiden win was a wire job at seven panels. Still, she has shown continued interest from off the pace in all three of her other starts, including a fourth-place finish beaten only a length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI). She stretched out to 1 1/16 miles well in that race, and also gets a rider change to Mike Smith, perhaps the west coast’s best big-money rider. She should have enough early speed to be near the front here, possibly even on it if TAKE CHARGE BRANDI lets her by initially the way she did Vivian Da Bling in the Princess. She is working well leading into this race, and trainer Todd Pletcher would not be shipping her back across the country if he did not think she was in form to contend. Still, with as much possible speed as there is in this race, the pace could well set up for someone running off it early. Enter ACHIEVER’S LEGACY, who here makes her graded stakes debut. A midpack type, she gets back rider Drayden Van Dyke, who can ride the Los Alamitos Thoroughbred course at least as well as anyone, having won the riding title there earlier this yaer. Van Dyke has been aboard this City Zip filly for her last two starts. Though she was third (and last) in her only start over dirt at Santa Anita, she was still only beaten half a length all told, coming from off a pace that was not particularly blazing. MAYBELLENE won that allowance, but ACHIEVER’S LEGACY turned the tables next out. They cut back from a mile on dirt to seven furlongs on the Del Mar polytrack for the listed Desi Arnaz, and ACHIEVER’S LEGACY took advantage of a speed duel between MAYBELLENE and Light the City to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Though she hasn’t quite proven herself to be the same class as TAKE CHARGE BRANDI or FEATHERED, the pace could work for her here. This is the longest distance she has gone to date. Still, sire City Zip has been versatile with respect to his progeny’s distance abilities, and dam Lure the Bear produced Annabird: a winner at the same distance as this race. ACHIEVER’S LEGACY will likely have to take a step forward speedwise to win this race, but nothing says she can’t. She has been gradually improving in her starts, and one more step along the path she is on puts her right on par with this company.
#6 TAKE CHARGE BRANDI (9/5)
#4 FEATHERED (2/1)
#1 ACHIEVER’S LEGACY (5/1)
Longshot: Paul has one of the #CurlinBabies occupying this spot for the Sugar Swirl (GIII); here comes another for the Starlet. #3 DANETTE (10/1) may not have won a race yet, but that has hardly stopped her dancing the big west coast dances, and performing creditably. Her debut was inauspicious, a well-beaten seventh in a five-furlong maiden special at Arlington back in June, but she has only improved since trainer Keith Desormeaux shipped her west and put his brother Kent aboard. Though she is still a maiden after six starts, this will be her third straight start in Grade I company. She was a wide, late-moving third in her first dirt start, the Chandelier (GI) at Santa Anita. She returned in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), and despite being pinballed at the start, mounted a run against the bias that put her just a length and a half short of Take Charge Brandi come the wire. She has improved on dirt and with distance — something not exactly surprising for a runner by Curlin out of a Dixieland Band mare who herself won at 1 1/16 miles. She also has a certain appeal because she, unlike many of the other runners in this race, has not been shipping around. She has stayed put in SoCal since July, giving her one less stressor than several of her foes. If things get a little too hot between the speedy types, DANETTE should have the speed and stamina to come nail them late, and become the first filly to break her maiden in the Starlet since the aptly named Hollywood Story did so in 2003.
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