Saturday's Hollywood Starlet was only Country Star's third start and her second win, but the way she did it had jockey Rafael Bejarano thinking big.
Asked if his filly might be an early favorite for next May's Kentucky Oaks, the excited rider said, "Oaks? She's going to be the next Kentucky Derby winner."
Country Star, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, had little trouble beating a nice field in Saturday's $400,000 Hollywood Park feature. After stalking the pace, Bejarano swung her wide into the stretch, she accelerated to the lead and won by 2 3/4 lengths without much late urging.
The victory made it two straight after a second-place finish in her career debut. In her last outing, Country Star won the Alcibiades at Keeneland.
"You can't even compare her win in Kentucky with this one," Bejarano said. "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."
Trainer Bobby Frankel, seldom given to overstatement, allowed Country Star "might be something special. We'll probably point to some races in May. I haven't made any plans yet."
Grace and Power was best of the rest in the Starlet. The Golden Noodle got home third. The time of 1:40.54 easily bettered the stakes record set by Serena's Song in 1994 but the installation of the artificial surface in the interim makes the comparison moot.
In Sunday's $150,000 Dahlia Stakes for fillies and mares, Citronnade led virtually every jump and won by 2 lengths, ridden out. Black Mamba closed in the final furlong to take second and Lavender Sky completed the colorful trifecta, a neck farther back. Citronnade, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Lemon Drop Kid, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.49. David Flores applied the winning ride for trainer Bobby Frankel.
"It was like a walk in the park," Flores said. "I could see in the paper that nobody had her kind of speed. The pace was very comfortable and when it was time to go at the quarter pole, I chirped to her a couple of times and it was all over."
In other weekend racing:
Calder Race Course
Redaspen delayed her retirement to take a chance in Saturday's $200,000 La Prevoyante Handicap, the marquee event in Saturday's Grand Slam II. After winning by 3/4 length thanks to a late move along the hedge, the 5-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred Bianconi mare now presents some choices for her owners. Redaspen beat Green Girl by 3/4 length, with the even-money favorite, Dalvina, finishing third for a lack of racing room late. The 1 1/2 miles on "good" turf took 2:26.63. "The owners were considering retiring her," said winning trainer Rebecca Baker. "But this race was coming up and a personal friend of ours recommended sending her to us and taking a shot … Now, I guess we'll have to talk about her future." Eddie Castro had the mount.
Paradise Dancer stalked the pace in the $100,000 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap, then won a long drive to the wire by a neck over Finallymadeit. Finance Minister finished third. Paradise Dancer, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Langfuhr gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast main track in 1:23.46 with Elvis Trujillo up for trainer Kirk Ziade. Ziade, noting the runner-up is 4 years younger than his veteran, said Finallymadeit "is a tough cookie. But this old man is tough, too. He's getting up there, but he can still do it. You have to space out his races."
Electrify split the leaders turning for home in the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap and scooted off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Summer Book. Imawildandcrazyguy ran third. Electrify, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Delaware Township, out of the Time for a Change mare Raspberry Eggcream, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:52.56 under Elvis Trujillo. The race is named for the centenarian owner/breeder who won the 1945 Kentucky Derby with the first horse he bought, Hoop Jr., and died in 2000.
Presious Passion, at odds of nearly 70-1, rallied from a pace-stalking position to upset the $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Stream of Gold. Kiss the Kid finished third. Presious Passion, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Royal Anthem, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:26.13 with Elvis Trujillo picking up his third win in the four-race stakes series. "He's run against and beaten good horses before," said winning trainer Mary Hartmann. "But this is the biggest race I've ever won. He can go shorter or longer. We'll just wait and see what comes up when he's ready to run again, probably at Gulfstream."
Hawthorne Race Course
Instill dueled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds, then drew off handily in the stretch run to beat the favorite, River Bear, by 5 lengths. Best Buddy was another 2 lengths back in third. Instill, a son of Proud Citizen, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.77 under Chris Emigh. John Wainwright trains the colt. The race is named for the former two-term Republican Illinois governor, now a leading owner/breeder of both Thoroughbred and Standardbreds.
Golden Gate Fields
El Gato Malo took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes for 2-year-olds, drawing off to a 4 1/4-lengths win over Bert's Law. Many Rivers finished third. El Gato Malo, a Kentucky-bred gelding by El Corrador, got the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.62 with Patrick Valenzuela riding for trainer Craig Dollase.
Wow Me Free rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $75,000 Ladies Handicap by a neck over Cryptoquip. Borrowing Base finished third. Wow Me Free, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Menifee filly, ran the 1 1/4 miles on the fast inner track in 2:04.63. Alan Garcia rode for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Sterwins rallied smartly outside the leaders in the final furlong to win Saturday's $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap by 1 length over Optimer. Save Big Money finished third. Sterwins, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Runaway Groom, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.86. Miguel Mena had the mount for trainer Pierce Malcolm.
Kettle Hill stayed just off the lead through the early furlongs in Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes, swept easily to the lead on the turn and won off by 3 1/4 lengths over Drilling for Oil. Sea of Trees finished third. Kettle Hill, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Pleasant Tap, ran the 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:50.84. William Troilo rode for trainer Ian Wilkes. "He's so big and he has such a long stride that it doesn't feel like he's going anywhere," said Troilo. "But he's picking up a lot of ground." The race is named for the 1993 winner of the Lane's End Stakes, then called the Jim Beam Stakes -- Turfway's premier event.
Ducky Drake, the favorite, was all he was "quacked up" to be in Saturday's $50,000 KLAQ Handicap, rallying from 10th of 11 to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Dragooner. Absolutely True finished third. Ducky Drake, a 5-year-old, California-bred gelding by Benchmark, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.64 with Mark Villa in the irons. He posted his third straight win.
In Sunday's $125,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares, the aptly named and heavily favored Peppers Pride stalked the pace, took the lead three-wide turning for home and drew off to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Hollywood Gone. Hand Glide was third. Peppers Pride, a 4-year-old Desert God filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.24 with Carlos Madeira in the irons.
Romeos Wilson had to come six-wide to clear traffic on the turn in Sunday's $125,000 Johnie L. Jamison Handicap for New Mexico-breds, then drew clear in the late going to win by 1 length over the lukewarm favorite, Some Ghost. Z Z Dome finished third. Romeos Wilson, a 9-year-old Jack Wilson gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.76 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. up.