Looking for a Longshot in the Starlet Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

When Take Charge Brandi heads to post on Saturday for the $350,000 Starlet Stakes (gr. I) at Los Alamitos, she will likely do so as a heavy favorite against six rivals. After all, her last two starts have yielded victories in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and Delta Downs Princess Stakes (gr. III), putting her in the position to be named Eclipse champion two-year-old filly of 2014.

But although she has good credentials, I’m going to take a stand against her on Saturday. In terms of Beyer speed figures, her edge is not substantial—many of her rivals have run figures almost or just as fast. Furthermore, she has drawn in between fellow speedsters Don’t Blame Me and Maybellene, which could leave Take Charge Brandi in the slightly awkward position of vying for the lead while racing in between horses. Given these question marks, I’m going to try and beat her with a filly offering better odds.

The most obvious candidate for an upset is probably Feathered, a Todd Pletcher-trained filly that finished a strong fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, beaten just one length by Take Charge Brandi. But in my opinion, no matter how you slice it, Take Charge Brandi was simply superior that day. Feathered got a wonderful trip, saving ground throughout while racing right behind the eventual winner, but when she shifted out to make her bid in the homestretch, she failed to present a serious challenge and was unable to gain any ground on Take Charge Brandi. Of course, you can make a case that Feathered will get a better setup on Saturday with a couple of other fillies likely to challenge Take Charge Brandi for the lead, but since Feathered is likely to be the second choice, this may not be the best place to bet her as she attempts to turn the tables on the favorite.

So who do I like? One filly that really intrigues me is Danette, who finished fifth in the Juvenile Fillies. In that race, she was bumped soundly at the start and forced to drop well off the pace, but then made a sustained run down the backstretch and around the final turn to reach contention at the top of the stretch. From there, she loomed a win contender until she flattened out in deep stretch, but she was also blocked by Take Charge Brandi at that point and might have held for second or third with a little better luck. As a closer, she’ll need a good pace to set up her late run, but the long Los Alamitos homestretch should aid her chances. As a maiden, she will surely be overlooked a bit in the wagering, but I think she has a strong chance to pull the upset at a solid price.

Another filly I like is Majestic Presence, who I picked to win the Juvenile Fillies. Although she ran ninth that day after a wide trip, she came back to finish a solid third behind Take Charge Brandi in the Delta Downs Princess Stakes despite another wide trip. She has flashed enough talent to suggest that if she can take back and work out a ground-saving trip behind the front-runners (a good possibility from post five), she could be in the mix for a top-three finish at large odds.

So in essence, I’ll take Danette as my selection, with respect to Take Charge Brandi, Feathered, and Majestic Presence to round out the exotics.

Before concluding this blog post, I would also like to take a moment to mention the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The 8.5-furlong race has drawn an excellent field of nine, including Liam’s Map, who has won his last two starts by a combined 21 lengths. In many respects, he looks like a standout in this race—he’s got front-running speed that should prove well-suited to Gulfstream, he’s got Todd Pletcher as a trainer and John Velazquez as a jockey, and he’s earned strong speed figures for his two victories. But despite these positives, he’s only the 7-2 third choice on the morning line!

These surprisingly high odds are likely due to a combination of factors, including the presence of Pants On Fire, who enters off a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). But to be perfectly honest, I think that Liam’s Map could end up being one of the best older males in training this winter, and if he stays near his 7-2 morning line price, I think that’s a price we may not see again in a long time.

Who do you like on Saturday?

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