Seeking an Upset in the Starlet Stakes

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 consideration.

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 belt.

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
2nd: Faiza
3rd: Doinitthehardway

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.

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