By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky
Oaks continues on Saturday with the running of the $300,000 Starlet S. (G1) at
Los Alamitos, a race won in the past by such accomplished fillies as Serena's
Song (1994), Blind Luck (2009), and Abel Tasman (2016).
If recent history is any
indication, the Starlet is ripe for conquest by Bob Baffert. The Hall of Fame
trainer has won the Starlet a record-equaling eight times overall, including
the last five editions.
Seven fillies have entered
the 2022 Starlet, and Baffert trains three of them. Leading the Baffert brigade
is #3 Faiza, the 7-5 morning line
favorite. The daughter of hot young sire Girvin impressed in a six-furlong
maiden special weight at Del Mar last month, dueling for the lead through quick
fractions of :21.92 and :44.76 before drawing off to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
The form of Faiza's flashy
debut was flattered when runner-up Lily Poo returned to win her next start
against similar competition at Del Mar. But jumping up from a six-furlong
maiden special weight into a 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 prize is a potential question
mark. Only one of Baffert's eight Starlet winners (Streaming in 2013) employed
this strategy; the rest all brought stakes experience (and the majority graded
stakes experience) into their successful Starlet bids.
Only one of Baffert's 2022
Starlet entrants has previously contested a stakes, that being #4 Fast and Shiny, a debut winner sprinting
five furlongs at Del Mar during the summer. On that occasion, Fast and Shiny
defeated stablemate #1 Doinitthehardway by
1 1/2 lengths.
But Fast and Shiny has
struggled in three starts since then. She was beaten to fifth place after
dueling for the early lead in the Del Mar Debutante (G1), then switched to turf
and finished fourth in the Surfer Girl S. (G3) and sixth in an $80,000
allowance optional claimer. The daughter of Preakness S. (G1) winner Bernardini
is eligible to bounce back with a stronger run while returning to dirt, but
Beyer and Brisnet speed figures suggest Fast and Shiny ranks below some of the
other Starlet entrants.
The final Baffert entrant is
the above-mentioned Doinitthehardway. Since finishing second in her debut
behind Fast and Shiny, Doinitthehardway has finished third in a 6 1/2-furlong
maiden special weight at Del Mar and second in a one-mile maiden special weight
over the same track.
Doinitthehardway might be a
maiden, but her route debut was solid, as she gamely chased the Grade 1-placed
2-5 favorite Ice Dancing to finish only a length away from victory.
Doinitthehardway pulled 13 1/2 lengths clear of the third-place finisher and
earned solid speed figures of 75 (Beyer) and 92 (Brisnet), faster than the
figures Faiza earned in her maiden victory. Doinitthehardway might be the least
accomplished of the Baffert trainees, but she can't be dismissed from
The takeaway, though, is
that Baffert doesn't appear to have any unbeatable fillies entered in the
Starlet. That's why I'm tempted to favor #7
Blessed Touch, a Tim Yakteen trainee with some promising runs under her
Blessed Touch got off to a
poor start in her debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar and never rally challenged
thereafter, rallying belatedly to finish fifth in a field containing Lily Poo
and Doinitthehardway. But she ran far better in a subsequent six-furlong maiden
special weight at Santa Anita, breaking on top and setting fractions of :21.85
and :44.56 on her way to victory by 8 3/4 lengths.
This powerful performance
produced flashy speed figures of 90 (Beyer) and 98 (Brisnet), and Blessed Touch
reiterated her talent with a strong runner-up showing in Del Mar's seven-furlong
Desi Arnaz S. last month. After settling a length or so behind fractions of
:22.04 and :45.05, Blessed Touch took the lead in the homestretch, only to get
run down by the exciting Justique.
Blessed Touch ran strongly
in defeat, finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind Justique while pulling 6 1/2 lengths
clear of the third-place finisher. The Desi Arnaz has produced four of the last
seven Starlet winners, so Blessed Touch can use her fine showing in this
pivotal prep race as a springboard to success at Los Alamitos.
1st: Blessed Touch
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Starlet?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.