Princess Noor leads Baffert squad versus Astute in Starlet

Dec 03, 2020 Kellie Reilly/

Saturday’s $300,000 Starlet Stakes (G1) at Los Alamitos has lured a short field of five, but the final Kentucky Oaks (G1) scoring race of 2020 is not short on intrigue. Six-time Starlet winner Bob Baffert sends out a three-strong team led by favorite Princess Noor, but they have to deal with unbeaten Astute from the Richard Mandella barn. 

Princess Noor, fifth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), hopes to turn the page from that first loss. The $1.35 million OBS Spring sale topper began her career with three romps, notably in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G2) at this 1 1/16-mile trip. Sent off as the 19-10 choice on Breeders’ Cup “Future Stars Friday” at Keeneland, Princess Noor tracked the pace but faded in the stretch. The even-money morning-line choice keeps Victor Espinoza aboard while taking the blinkers off here, an equipment change that works for Baffert at a 34% clip.

Baffert, who is seeking his fourth straight Starlet as well as seventh overall, also has chances with Varda (8-1) and Kalypso (6-1). Varda scored on debut at Del Mar before finishing a distant, if troubled, second to Princess Noor in the Chandelier. A $700,000 purchase at the same OBS Sale as Princess Noor, Varda could show more in her second route attempt. Drayden Van Dyke has the return call. Abel Cedillo likewise maintains his partnership with Kalypso, who placed in her first two outings and broke her maiden by wiring the Oct. 18 Anoakia at Santa Anita. The rail-drawn Kalypso figures to be a pace factor in this two-turn bow.
Astute, the 7-5 second choice, also faces a test in her first try beyond a sprint, but the LNJ Foxwoods colorbearer doesn’t look like a one-dimensional type. After starting out with a front-running victory in a turf dash, Astute dueled another Baffert hotpot, 1-2 favorite Private Mission, into submission in the Nov. 14 Desi Arnaz at Del Mar. Private Mission retreated to fourth, while Astute kept on rolling by 7 1/2 lengths. Drawn in post 4 with a returning Mike Smith, Astute is between Princess Noor (post 3) and Varda (outside post 5).

Although the primary story lines revolve around Princess Noor’s retrieval mission and the rise of Astute, the Mike McCarthy-trained Nasreddine isn’t to be overlooked at 15-1. By 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) champ Nyquist (also the sire of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Vequist), Nasreddine was an encouraging second versus the boys despite a slow start on debut. She came right back to win a 6-furlong Del Mar maiden in rallying style, and the long stretch should play to her strengths. 

Carded as the 5TH race on Saturday, at 5:28 p.m. (ET), the Starlet offers points to the top four finishers on the 10-4-2-1 scale. The next scoring opportunity on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks comes after the aspirants have celebrated their official third birthday – the Jan. 3 Santa Ynez (G2) at Santa Anita. 
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