Accomplishments for the 11 2-year-old fillies in Sunday's $447,000 Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) were few even if several appeared to have big potential. The winner, 39-1 outsider Diplomat Lady, trounced by Wild Fit in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) in August, wasn't thought to be one of them.
Given a patented front-running ride by Tyler Baze, Diplomat Lady opened up a two-length lead at the eighth pole and held off the 17-10 favorite Balance for a half-length victory. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile test was 1:43 4/5.
"It's my first grade I, my throat is sore but I feel like jumping out of my skin," said winning trainer Christopher Paasch.
Diplomat Lady, a $400,000 Fasig-Tipton buy in February, returned a Starlet record $80, $20.60, and $8.80 and combined with Balance ($3.60, $2.40), ridden by Victor Espinoza, for a $261.40 exacta. Sabatini ($3.60), Garrett Gomez aboard, closed from far back to finish third.
Diplomat Lady has won all three of her races at Hollywood Park. It was her other two starts, both at Del Mar, the public didn't care for – a fourth-place finish in the Sorrento (gr. III) and a 10th-place showing in the Debutante, 16 lengths behind Wild Fit.
However, Paasch gave her 10 weeks off after that dismal try. With Baze riding her for the first time, Diplomat Lady returned to win a first-level allowance race at Hollywood in sharp front-running style by 2 1/4 lengths Nov. 12.
"The two races down at Del Mar she was sick," Paasch said. "We stopped on her, gave her some time. We ran her back in the allowance race to hopefully get her confidence built back up."
Baze had high hopes entering the race.
"Honestly, I'm not surprised at all. Really," he insisted. "Nobody thought anything about her, but I knew she had a great chance. The last time I rode her, I never even asked her to run. Then I worked her the seven-eights (1:26 2/5 Dec. 3) and she galloped out the mile really, really nice. I told Christopher Paasch I'd go anywhere to ride this filly, that she is really something special. I felt the favorite coming at the top of the lane, but I just kept riding my filly. She's got an awfully big heart."
Diplomat Lady was one of seven fillies supplemented to the Starlet for $20,000.
She found a great opportunity in the Starlet, meeting a field that possessed no graded event winners and only two that won a stakes race of any kind. One of those, the previously unbeaten Balance, had impressed with a 1 3/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Sharp Cat at Hollywood Nov. 27. The fans also got behind a pair of strong debut maiden winners, Sabatini and Meetmeinthewoods, who ran third and fourth.
Diplomat Lady, a dark bay daughter of Forestry
-Playcaller (Saratoga Six
), had stamina questions but Baze was able to extend her. An expected pace duel among several fillies, including Diplomat Lady, never materialized.
She broke on top from the inside and had the best position as several vying for the front end fanned out on the clubhouse turn. She soon took control and, with Meetmeinthewoods pressuring on her outside, she completed the opening quarter mile in :23 1/5, the half in :46 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. Balance settled into third for most of the journey and ranged up on the outside to challenge. But Diplomat Lady edged away again and proved too tough to overcome at the end even as Balance closed stoutly.
"I was afraid with all the speed in here today that we would be hard-pressed for the lead," Paasch added. "I was quite surprised to see her pull away the first quarter mile as easily as she did."
Espinoza and David Hofmans, the trainer of Balance, felt the pace scenario compromised their filly.
"At the first turn, she got bumped pretty good a couple of times," Espinoza said. "It might have affected us a little bit. When you get beat that close, you want to look at something that might have made a difference. But I never really thought I was going to be able to catch the leader the way it went. She was going easy on the lead, and I'm trying my best to catch her. My filly just couldn't quicken enough to catch her."
Diplomat Lady has now won three of five starts for owner Charles Cono. The winner's share Sunday, $273,600, increased her bankroll to $334,800.
Mike G. Rutherford bred the winner in Kentucky.
Sabatini, who debuted with a five-length win going a mile at Churchill Downs Nov. 5, had just one horse beaten on the far turn but rallied impressively to get a piece while beaten three lengths for it all. She beat Meetmeinthewood by 1 3/4 lengths for third. Then came Karlee's Kitten, Incumbent, Political Web, Fall in Love, Loosends, True Xena, and Private World.