Country Star Returns in El Encino
Two-time grade I winner Country Star looks to rebound from a disappointing sophomore campaign when she makes her 4-year-old debut in the $150,000 El Encino Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 18 at Santa Anita. A full field of a dozen 4-year-old fillies are entered in the 1 1/16-mile event on Pro-Ride.
A Kentucky homebred of Stonerside Stable, Country Star was one of the top juveniles in the land in 2007 when winning the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland and the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) two months later. But the daughter of Empire Maker—Rings a Chime, by Metfield was off-the-board in both graded stakes efforts as a 3-year-old--finishing fifth in the Ashland (gr. I) and sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Country Star’s only other start of 2008 came on the turf Aug. 18 in allowance company at Saratoga, where she won by a half-length. The dark bay filly will enter the El Encino off a five-month layoff, but her five-furlong work in :59.60 Jan. 14 at Santa Anita seems to indicate she will be ready for her seasonal debut.
Rafael Bejarano will be in the saddle for trainer Bobby Frankel, as Country Star will break from post 2. She has earned a race-high $638,865 in her career.
The other multiple graded stakes winner in the field is Lethal Heat. Co-owned and trained by Barry Abrams, Lethal Heat won six of nine starts during her 3-year-old campaign, including victories in the Santa Paula Stakes (gr. III) in March at Santa Anita and the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) in June. The Unusual Heat filly also set seven-furlong track records at Del Mar when winning the Fleet Treat and Real Good Deals Stakes later in the year.
Lethal Heat, who made her 4-year-old debut Jan. 3 at Santa Anita when finishing third in the Monrovia Handicap (gr. III), has won four of five starts on synthetic surfaces. Chantel Sutherland will be in the irons.
Three promising graded stakes placed fillies–Life Is Sweet, Ginger Pop, and Foxy Danseur–will be looking to break through in the El Encino.
Martin and Pam Wygod’s Life Is Sweet has not raced since May when she finished runner-up to Raw Silk in the Sands Point Stakes (gr. II) on turf at Belmont. In fact, five of her seven lifetime starts have come on turf and her lone try on a synthetic surface came in the Ashland when she finished fourth and was 2 1/4 lengths better than Country Star. Top rider Garrett Gomez gets the mount for the first time on the daughter of Storm Cat.
Like Lethal Heat, turf specialist Ginger Pop has tried synthetics only once, that coming last out in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 27 at Santa Anita when she missed by only 1 1/2 lengths to Indian Blessing. The El Prado filly nearly pulled off the upset at 47-1 under Jose Valdivia Jr. Trainer Dan Hendricks said Ginger Pop’s tenth-place finish in her previous start, the Del Mar Oaks (gr. I), was the reason she received so little support at the windows.
“She bruised a heel in the Del Mar Oaks,” Hendricks noted. “It took us six weeks before we could train her again. Once she started training, she was better than ever. The time off gave her a little time to mature and catch up to herself.”
Foxy Danseur has already made 14 starts in her young career with a 3-4-1 mark to show for it. As a 2-year-old, she finished third in the Sorrento Stakes (gr. III) and won the 1 1/16-mile Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood. Last out, Foxy Danseur was fourth in the La Brea, 3 1/4 lengths back of the winner. Regular rider Mike Smith draws the mount and will have to break from post 12 on the daughter of Mr. Greeley.
$150,000 El Encino Stakes (gr. IT, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), 4-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles (Pro-Ride)
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