Jockey Patrick Valenzuela found room along the rail and shot even-money favorite Starrer through the opening at the top of the stretch, going on to a five-length victory in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) Sunday at Hollywood Park.
The 4-year-old Dynaformer filly ended a five-race losing streak this year as she won for the first time since last year's Bayakoa. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile on a fast main track was a swift 1:41.74, two-fifths off the stakes record.
After breaking slowly, Starrer edged up behind Secret of Mecca and Netherland through early fractions of :23.97 and :47.54, Valenzuela was able to slide Starrer to the rail, where she stalked the leaders around the final turn. As they cleared their way into the stretch, tiring Secret of Mecca came out a little and Starrer quickly slipped past on her inside. She pulled away from runner-up Cee's Elegance down the lane. Angel Gift closed well enough to edge Secret of Mecca for third, 1 1/2 lengths further back.
"She was well within herself," said Valenzuela, who thought the race was over when Starrer made the lead. "Mine is the only filly who could finish the way she can.
"When I asked her at the head of the lane, she really accelerated," Valenzuela said. "That hole opened up for us on the turn. I was just picking my spots. If I had to come around (the outside), I could have done that. She proved that the last eighth the way she was drawing away."
Starrer is owned by George Krikorian and trained by John Shirreffs. Bred in Kentucky by Wind Hill Farm, she was purchased for $35,000 in the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Oct. 1999 sale. Starrer, who was coming off of a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) Oct. 26, won her fourth career race in 18 starts, pushing her career earnings to $743,033.
Shirreffs, who took over the training duties of Starrer in the spring, saddled Manistique to win back-to back runnings of the Bayakoa in 1998-99.
"She's such a nice filly, I'm glad she had a chance to run her race," Shirreffs said. "I think early in the year when we started off at a mile and an eighth, then we jumped her to two mile-and-a-quarters right away, I think at that point she was playing catch-up with her physical fitness. Obviously, she is very fit now."
She was trained by David Hofmans when she won last year's running of the Bayakoa.
Starrer paid $4, $2.60 and $2.10. Cee's Elegance returned $3.60 and $2.10. Angel Gift paid $2.10.