January 28, 2021

Varda goes last to first in Starlet as Princess Noor pulls up

Varda
Varda gives Bob Baffert his seventh victory in the Starlet © BENOIT PHOTO

When 3-5 favorite Princess Noor took charge on the far turn of Saturday’s $300,500 Starlet Stakes (G1), the only question was how big her margin would be. Unfortunately, the answer is unknowable for Princess Noor was pulled up entering the Los Alamitos stretch. Trainer Bob Baffert still had the exacta with his other two runners, as the 17-1 Varda closed from last to beat pacesetter Kalypso.

Princess Noor, who had easily beaten Varda in the Sept. 26 Chandelier (G2), was coming off a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). The market forecast a rebound from that first career loss, and she indeed ran like an odds-on choice throughout the opening stages.

Kalypso sped to the lead and rattled off fractions of :22.91 and :46.43, testing for a juvenile making her two-turn debut at a track with a long stretch. Princess Noor was on hold in second, just awaiting the signal. Her main rival Astute, the 13-10 second choice who was stretching out for the first time, chased in third on the inside but didn’t take the eye so much.

Princess Noor engulfed Kalypso passing the 6-furlong mark in 1:10.15. But just as she swung for home, she bore out and appeared to go wrong without breaking down altogether. Jockey Victor Espinoza took quick action to get her pulled up, safely away from the others, to await the ambulance.

Meanwhile, Kalypso was back in front again by default, although slowing down noticeably. Astute backpedaled, and Nasreddine could not gain ground as she churned on in third.

Then Varda, hitherto biding her time at the rear of the field, hit her stride. Patiently handled by Drayden Van Dyke, the Distorted Humor filly caught up and overhauled the tiring Kalypso by 1 1/2 lengths.

Varda negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.53 to give Baffert his seventh Starlet, and fourth in a row (that quartet all ridden by Van Dyke). She sports the colors of Baoma Corp., also the owner of last year’s winner, Bast.

“She always tries hard,’’ Van Dyke said of Varda. “She broke well and we just waited. She needed every bit of that long stretch.”

Adding 10 Kentucky Oaks (G1) points to her 4 from the Chandelier, Varda has a total of 14. Kalypso earned 4 points for her hard-trying second, Nasreddine received 2, and Astute has 1 point for finishing fourth of four who completed the course.

Princess Noor “walked into the van under her own power,” according to the chart. Postrace bulletins were encouraging about her condition, with Britney Eurton reporting that the initial diagnosis is an inflamed left front tendon.

“There was no fracture,” Baffert told Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen. “It’s soft tissue. I don’t know if she hit herself. She’ll be fine. She didn’t break anything.”

Varda paid $37.80 while increasing her own line to 3-2-1-0, $254,500. The $700,000 OBS Spring purchase was a sharp winner in her 6-furlong debut at Del Mar. Next she tried the more accomplished Princess Noor in the Chandelier, where the race was over in the blink of an eye, but Varda was best of the rest in a promising stakes and two-turn bow. The bay was mentioned as a Breeders’ Cup possible before awaiting this spot instead.

“(Varda) had been working really well,” Baffert said, “and she looked like the kind of filly that the farther the better with her, so that’s why we’ve been waiting and waiting with her.”

Bred in New York by Masters 2013 LLC and Distorted Humor Syndicate, Varda first fetched $100,000 as a Fasig-Tipton New York Bred yearling. She is a three-quarter sister to Grade 3-placed Big Family (by Distorted Humor’s son Any Given Saturday) and a half to multiple stakes-placed Getouttamyway. They were all produced by the Sky Mesa mare She’ll Be Right, herself a half to Grade 1-placed multiple stakes scorer Storm Treasure, from the family of South African co-champion Overarching and last year’s Natalma (G1) winner Abscond.