HOLLYWOOD STARLET STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | 2-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/16 MILES
Pure Fun, the lone shipper in this year's Hollywood Starlet Stakes, turned in an electric performance in rallying from last at the quarter pole to win by one length Dec. 8 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Trained by Ken McPeek for his Magdalena Racing operation, Pure Fun took the overland route for Garrett Gomez rounding the far turn and mowed down her seven rivals to post an eye-catching win at 6-1 odds in the $500,000 event for juvenile fillies.
Coming off a 9 1/4-length romp in a one-mile allowance optional claiming event Nov. 24 on the main track at Churchill Downs, Pure Fun was supplemented to the Starlet for $10,000. The daughter of Pure Prize was making her synthetic track debut after racing on the turf prior to her most recent start at Churchill.
Executiveprivilege, looking to make her case for an Eclipse Award as the nation's top 2-year-old filly with a third Grade 1 victory this year, faded to fourth without an excuse as the 2-5 favorite.
Pure Fun ran the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.65 on Cushion Track. Blonde Fog finished second with Scarlet Strike third.
"She jumped away well, but I was a little bit concerned because she was not traveling her best around the first turn," Gomez said after riding the chestnur filly for the first time. "About halfway down the backside, she started figuring it out and when I wheeled her out she was really accelerating. She took off and was very impressive."
Bred in Kentucky by Royal Oak Farm, Pure Fun is out of the winning Key to the Mint mare Chelsea Green and sold for $22,000 as a 2011 Keeneland September yearling.
Breaking from the rail, Pure Fun tailed off the pace to trail while saving ground. Blonde Fog, who like Executiveprivilege is trained by Bob Baffert, got the early lead along the inside over outsider Rhodium as the heavy favorite settled into third along the inside. Blonde Fog, a 12 1/2-length debut maiden winner in her only start, had things her own way on the front end for Martin Garcia while maintaining about a one-length advantage over Rhodium. Fractions for the opening half mile were :23.63 and :47.33.
Executiveprivilege, moved off the rail slightly by Mike Smith rounding the far turn, edged past Rhodium and appeared poised to challenge her stablemate after they completed six furlongs in 1:12.47. But Blonde Fog had more to give in the homestretch as Scarlet Strike also rallied into contention for Joe Talamo.
Blonde Fog would squirt two lengths free at mid-stretch. But Pure Fun, about five paths wide while picking off the back markers coming off the turn, motored past the rest under left-handed urging while drifting in slightly to strike the lead in the final sixteenth. Pure Fun held steady in the remaining strides to win impressively under strong handling.
"She was a little bit further back than I thought she was going to be," said Matt Shirer, assistant trainer to McPeek. "[Gomez] said he asked her to go around the three-eighths pole and she gave him a little. Then by about the quarter pole she really kicked it in.
"All the sudden she gave a great burst of energy about six or seven wide around all those horses. In Kentucky (in her prior start) it was the same kind of thing--around the quarter pole she came flying. She's probably going to stay here for about a week, then she will fly back to Lexington. She'll go to the farm for a little bit and most likely be pointed toward the [Kentucky] Oaks."
Blonde Fog was best of the rest, defeating Scarlet Strike by two lengths for second. Executiveprivilege, the runner-up in this year's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, had to settle for fourth.
"She didn't punch," lamented trainer Bob Baffert of Executiveprivilege. "The winner ran a good race and my other filly [Blonde Fog] ran a good race. On the turn for home I saw she was struggling a little bit. She felt fine for [Mike Smith], but when she turned for home, she put her head up a bit and just had no zip."
Pure Fun, who races without Lasix, collected $260,000 for the Starlet victory, her third lifetime win from eight starts. She has now banked $343,599. In her only previous stakes experience, she finished seventh -- while beaten by just 1 1/4 lengths at 58-1 odds -- in the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes on the Keeneland turf Oct. 11.
Under equal weights of 120 pounds, Pure Fun paid $14.40, $6, and $10.60 as the third choice. Blonde Fog, part of a $65.40 exacta, returned $6 and $9.40. Scarlet Strike, third in Hollywood's Sharp Cat Stakes as the 4-5 favorite in her most recent start Nov. 11 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, paid $19.
Executiveprivilege, making her seventh start since debuting June 28, was followed home by Sharp Cat winner Midnight Ballet, Renee's Titan, Miss Empire, and Rhodium.
"Extremely disappointed," Smith said of Executiveprivilege's effort. "I had a beautiful trip, but she got her head way up and did not menace. I just hope everything is OK with her after the race."