Country Star Shines in Starlet
The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile Starlet, 1:40.54, shaved two fifths off the previous Cushion Track mark at Hollywood Park. The track has been playing extremely fast all week.
Bobby Frankel trains Country Star, the homebred daughter of Empire Maker—Rings a Chime, by Metfield, for Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable. Frankel was nearly effusive in his praise for Country Star after her victory.
"I'm thinking back, and to me, she's the best (2-year-old filly) I've had," he said.
The even-money favorite of the public, the dark bay filly came into the Starlet after winning the 1 1/6-mile Alcibiades (gr. I) by one length on Keeneland's Polytrack Oct. 5. Using the same tracking style she employed that day, Country Star was even more impressive this time.
"You can't even compare her win in Kentucky with this one," said winning jockey Rafael Bejarano. "There's no comparison. She's so much better now. You can place this filly anywhere you want. I tried not to use her early and to get her to relax like last time. I just followed the speed and when I got her in the clear, she just exploded."
Country Star tracked a fast pace from well back for Bejarano, swung wide into position between horses at the top of the stretch, then barreled home through the lane while four wide, sweeping past Time Reveals All to win going away. Eastern invader Grace and Power, also closing from off the pace for jockey Michael Baze, tried to make a race of it but could not get close to the winner, finishing second.
"She was rolling home, but the favorite was going faster," Baze said.
The Golden Noodle closed belatedly for third, two lengths behind the runner-up, under Julien Leparoux.
The first three enjoyed a dream pace scenario. Spritely, undefeated in two starts and making her stakes debut for trainer Todd Pletcher, and Time Reveals All established fast fractions for the distance, :23.38, :46.25 and 1:10.14, while racing head-and-head, with Foxy Danseur and Set Play stalking them. Spritely was the first to give way but none of the other front-runners was ready to go on with it either when Country Star came calling.
"I was surprised she went so wide but I guess (Bejarano) didn't want to get in any trouble," Frankel said. "It looked like he asked her and she took off and then he was pulling her up at the end.
"She's great to be around, easy to train and she does everything one hundred percent. This one might be something special. We'll probably point to some races in May, I haven't made any plans yet. She might run in the Santa Anita Oaks, maybe one more race before then."
Frankel has predicted big things for his former star Empire Maker as a stallion. He said he has five 2-year-olds by Empire Maker in his barn presently, and four are fillies. Country Star, he said, looks most like her sire.
With back-to-back grade I wins, Country Star is certainly in the picture as far as Eclipse Award balloting is concerned. But Frankel wasn't making a big deal of it, knowing there is always next year.
"Indian Blessing should get it (the Eclipse) with what she did in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)," he said. "But this filly should get some consideration."
Country Star began her career with a second-place finish behind Backseat Rhythm — the eventual third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies — in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on turf at Belmont Park Sept. 20. She jumped from there into the Alcibiades.
The victory, worth $255,300, increased Country Star's earnings to $575,900.
She paid $4, $3 and $2.40. Grace and Power, shipped west by trainer Steve Klesaris for new owner Bobby Flay after four strong performances on grass to begin her career, returned $9.20 and $5.60. She completed a $2 exacta worth $39. Montana-bred The Golden Noodle, coming off a third-place showing in the seven-furlong Moccasin on the Hollywood synthetic track for trainer Jack Van Berg, was $4.80 to show.
Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) winner Set Play, the only other graded winner in the field, finished fourth, followed by Foxy Danseur, Time Reveals All, Sunday Geisha, second choice Grace Anatomy and Spritely.
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