Faiza, winner of the 2022 edition of the Starlet (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
By Ashley Tamulonis
On Friday, December 16 the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) announced its revisions to the graded and/or listed status of all U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000 for 2023.
In Part 1 of this series, I looked at the upgrading of the Stephen Foster from a grade two to a grade one race and concluded that was a justified and necessary change. In Part 2 of this series, I reviewed the downgrading of the Cigar Mile and determined that the committee had gotten it wrong. In Part 3 of the series, I disagreed with the downgrading of the historic Woodward, judging that logic had no place when ignoring tradition. In Part 4 of the series, I agreed with the downgrading of the Clark.
In Part 5, I will discuss the downgrading of the Starlet, perhaps better known as the Bob Baffert at this point. Because it is a race for 2-year old fillies, I opted to go back a year further than with the other races because I believe that it is unfair to judge this year’s fillies before their careers have even gotten off the ground. I will touch on this year’s field; however, it will not color my ultimate decision regarding the status of this race going forward.
Dream Tree beat just three other fillies when scoring her only grade one win in the Starlet in what would end up being an abbreviated career. Yesterday’s News got her grade one placing via the Starlet and also had a short career. Piedi Bianchi, the third place finisher, was multiple graded stakes placed, including being multiple grade one placed as a juvenile. Fourth place finisher Exuberance was also multiple graded stakes placed.
Chasing Yesterday, a half-sister to Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, won the Grade 1 Starlet but was off the board in her other two attempts at the top tier. Her connections decided that lone grade one win was enough and retired her early. Enaya Alrabb, a multiple graded stakes placed runner, finished second and earned her only grade one placing here. She raced just four times. Multiple grade one placed Mother Mother was third. Graded stakes winner Oxy Lady ran fourth, stakes winner Sold It was fifth, and Vibrance, a multiple grade one placed runner, including 3rd place in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, completed the order of finish.
Bast, a three time grade one winner and 3rd in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, won the 2019 Starlet. BCJF runner-up Donna Veloce was second, and dual grade one placed K P Dreamin was third. Graded stakes placed Gingham and Roadrunner’s Honor completed the field. All five fillies would have short careers.
Varda earned her top tier win in the 2020 Starlet and was otherwise multiple graded stakes placed. Even though she raced this year, she still had a short career as she did not race between December 2020 and March 2022. Grade one winner Kalypso was second, and Nasreddine, who became grade one placed in this race, was third. Multiple stakes winner Astute was fourth and grade one winner Princess Noor was last. Apart from Kalypso, the rest of this field has short careers, too.
Like many of the winners before her, 2021 Starlet winner Eda nabbed her only grade one triumph in this race. Multiple graded stakes winner and multiple grade one placed Cairo Memories was second while Tonito’s earned grade one placing by finishing third. Dual grade one winner and eventual Kentucky Oaks third place finisher was fourth, stakes placed Benedict Canyon was fifth, and grade one winner Grace Adler was last. Aside from Cairo Memories and Desert Dawn, the fillies in this field all had short careers too.
We don’t yet know what this year’s Starlet field may still accomplish, but Faiza, Pride of the Nile, and Uncontrollable all earned either their first grade one win or their first grade one placing earlier this month. There is still time for them to buck the trends we have seen so far.
For the past several years, the Starlet has been the kiss of death for the fillies that have competed in it. Most of the winners only had that one top tier win. The winners, along with many of the rivals they faced, had every short careers, racing six times or less. Additionally, none of the fields in the given period were large at all, the biggest being a field of six in 2018, 2021, and this year.
Like with the Clark and Cigar Mile, a lot of the Starlet’s problems boils down to where it falls on the racing calendar. As a December race, it tends to draw fillies that did not make the Breeders’ Cup, whether that was due to a later start to their career, a lack of ability at that level, or both. For those fillies that do compete in the Breeders’ Cup, we do not often see them run back in the Starlet because they are being rested and pointed toward their 3-year old campaigns and the Kentucky Oaks.
Bearing all that in mind, downgrading the Starlet from grade one status to grade two status was an easy decision for the TOBA Graded Stakes Committee and one I agree with. Though the Starlet has always been a grade one race and a few notable fillies have won it, including champions Sarena’s Song, Blind Luck, and Able Tasman, it just does not consistently produce solid, grade one types.