July 22, 2024

Faiza all out to avert upset in Starlet

Faiza (outside) holds off Pride of the Nile to win the Starlet Stakes (Photo by Benoit Photo)

In the wake of her convincing debut at Del Mar, Michael Lund Petersen’s Faiza was heavily favored to handle the step up in class and distance in Saturday’s $300,500 Starlet (G1). But the jump from a six-furlong maiden to 1 1/16 miles at Los Alamitos was nearly too much, as she was all out to stave off Pride of the Nile and give Bob Baffert a record ninth Starlet win.

Backers of the 1-2 favorite had to sweat out a battle for the duration of the long Los Alamitos stretch, and even once Faiza was confirmed on top in the photo, the uncertainty wasn’t over. The inquiry sign flashed immediately, and the stewards took several minutes reviewing the various replay angles before the result was declared official.

The 12.30-1 Pride of the Nile ran a remarkable race to come so close, despite taking a nosedive right out of the gate. As she was regrouping in fifth, Faiza was perched in a garden-spot third, with jockey Flavien Prat observing a contested pace.

Her Baffert stablemate, Doinitthehardway, was doing just that on the lead. Hounded by the 101-1 longshot Classymademoiselle, Doinitthehardway set fractions of :23.36 and :47.87. Faiza advanced wide on the far turn, overtaking the backpedaling Classymademoiselle. But Pride of the Nile sneaked through on the inside, and that ground-saving move launched her into a close second by the six-furlong mark in 1:12.86.

Things got crowded at the head of the lane. Pride of the Nile drifted out slightly, making contact with Doinittthehardway, who was pinballed as Faiza bore down on her outer flank. Doinitthehardway and Pride of the Nile skirmised again while Faiza edged a half-length ahead. Once Pride of the Nile subdued Doinitthehardway, she bravely engaged the favorite. Faiza responded to keep her head in front at the wire in 1:44.49.

The top two pulled 5 1/2 lengths clear of Uncontrollable, who stayed on from last for third. Doinitthehardway faded to fourth. Blessed Touch hit the gate, got hung out wide on the clubhouse turn, and wound up fifth, beating only Classymademoiselle. The third Baffert entrant, Fast and Shiny, was scratched.

The stewards took a look at whether Pride of the Nile cost Doinitthehardway a better placing. They ruled that the result should stand, in a unanimous decision, according to track announcer Michael Wrona.

The Starlet is a scoring race on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, but Faiza and Doinitthehardway are ineligible to earn points since Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. Thus only three of the top five Starlet finishers qualify for the points on offer. Pride of the Nile opened her account with four points; third-placer Uncontrollable picked up three more, upping her total to seven; and fifth Blessed Touch received one point.

Baffert had been tied with fellow Hall of Famer, and Quarter Horse alum, D. Wayne Lukas with eight victories in this fixture originally held at old Hollywood Park. Lukas padded his total in the Starlet’s first running at Los Alamitos in 2014, with champion Take Charge Brandi. Baffert, who won three editions at Hollywood, has now won six Starlets in a row at its new home.

“This place is special to me and especially on the day of the Champion of Champions,” Baffert said, referring to Saturday night’s $750,000 Grade 1 for Quarter Horses. “I have such great memories and Los Alamitos just means a lot to me.

“To win this race this many times is a tribute to the clientele I have and a great staff that works with me. It’s a team effort.”

Faiza improved her scorecard to 2-for-2 and increased her earnings to $222,000. The $725,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile became the first Grade 1 winner for freshman sire Girvin.

“(Faiza) has always shown she’s a special filly,” Baffert said, “and she had to be special today to win off just one maiden race. She’s still green, but I think she has a big future in front of her. I think she’s going to get better with age, but we’ve loved her from the start, and she’s by one of the hottest sires going right now.”

Bred by Brereton C. Jones, whose Airdrie Stud will welcome Girvin to Kentucky for 2023, Faiza initially brought $90,000 as a Fasig-Tipton July yearling. The bay is out of the Smart Strike mare Sweet Pistol, herself a half to Baffert’s 2019 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Thousand Words. Sweet Pistol and Thousand Words were produced by multiple Grade 2 vixen Pomeroys Pistol.