INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- In the spring and summer of 2009, Lilly Fa Pootz was collecting wins in $7,500 claiming races at Emerald Downs in Washington. She had yet to start on turf.
When she finally did, finishing third in a $16,000 claimer at Golden Gate Fields last November in her 17th career start, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer saw enough that day to claim her for that amount in her next start in December. Hollendorfer has raced Lilly Fa Pootz primarily on turf this year, and she has changed in the most unexpected ways.
Saturday, she makes her Grade 1 debut in the $250,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Hollywood Park and is capable of winning against a field that features stakes winners from three continents.
"She's sitting on a big race," said Hollendorfer's assistant, Dan Ward.
Lilly Fa Pootz has not been worse than third in 11 starts for Hollendorfer, including a win in the restricted Osunitas Stakes at Del Mar in July. She followed that win with a nose loss to Wasted Tears in the Grade 2 John Mabee Stakes in August and a fast-closing third in the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf Sept. 6. This year, she has won four races and earned $212,492.
The Yellow Ribbon is run over 1 1/4 miles on turf and will be the longest race of Lilly Fa Pootz's career, which includes eight wins in 29 starts.
"She finished willingly last time," Ward said.
Lilly Fa Pootz will face a class test in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon, which is part of the Breeders' Cup Win and You're In program. The winner of the race receives an automatic berth to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, subject to the payment of entry and nomination fees.
The field of nine includes Gypsy's Warning, a South African Group 1 stakes winner who was third in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 21; Turning Top, who won the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap here over 1 1/4 miles on turf in June; and Hibaayeb, who won the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June but has run poorly in three subsequent starts in Europe.
Gypsy's Warning was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Eclair de Lune in the Beverly D., which was run over 1 3/16 miles. A 5-year-old mare, Gypsy's Warning will be after her first win over 1 1/4 miles in her second attempt. She was third in a Group 1 in South Africa over 1 1/4 miles in June 2009.
Gypsy's Warning was flown from Maryland to California on Thursday.
"I'm comfortable with the mile and a quarter," trainer Graham Motion said. "I think it suits her. I think it's an evenly matched group. I feel like she fits in the race, and that's why we're coming all the way out there."
Turning Top won three races on the Hollywood Park turf course in May and June and has rebounded from a fifth in the Mabee, trainer Simon Callaghan said.
"We think she's back to training the way she was before the Beverly Hills," Callaghan said. "We've beaten four horses in the race, and there are reasons to think we'd be there with a good shot."