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King: Lots to like about Vibrance in Starlet

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Barbara D. Livingston
Vibrance (left) has the potential to offer some value in Saturday's Grade 1 Starlet.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – When horseplayers open the past performances for Saturday’s Grade 1 Starlet at Los Alamitos, the last-out third from Vibrance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies will understandably garner attention, having come in the classiest race for 2-year-old fillies on dirt all year.

That is not the only basis for that race to command respect, however. So, too, did it impress me from a trip perspective, with Vibrance managing her third-place finish despite some challenges that aren’t noted in the comments of her past performances or in the chart itself.

She experienced trouble – not obvious trouble, such as being checked or hung wide – but trouble nevertheless. I made notes of her breaking about two lengths behind the leaders, advancing eagerly to play catch-up, and then running evenly from an inside stalking position while never fully in the clear.

This was not a disastrous trip, but was not the type of journey that typically results in success, especially for an inexperienced runner. A young horse who becomes aggressive following a tardy beginning might recover to reach contention only to back up in the lane after eating dirt down the backstretch.

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It is to her credit that Vibrance did not. Instead, she kept battling all the way to the finish, with Restless Rider needing the full stretch at Churchill Downs to edge past her by a half-length for the runner-up spot behind front-running winner Jaywalk. Plus, Restless Rider had the more favorable position, being on the outside.

All that said, I must admit I was surprised to see Restless Rider subsequently beaten when second in the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, though perhaps a long year and racing over an off track were contributing factors to her upset a couple of weeks ago.

Regardless, Vibrance’s Breeders’ Cup performance, coming under less-than-ideal circumstances, leads me to believe she is the most likely winner of the Starlet. Though value is tough to find in a six-horse field, I am hopeful she will offer at least a palatable price due to the presence of the Bob Baffert-trained stakes-winning duo of Mother Mother and Chasing Yesterday, plus Oxy Lady, winner of the Grade 3 Tempted in her last start.

Oxy Lady owns the top Beyer Speed Figure, a 94, compared to the 84 Vibrance posted in the Breeders’ Cup, but I’m dubious Oxy Lady can replicate that figure after leaping forward 25 points upon her prior top. She seems ripe to regress.

As for Mother Mother and Chasing Yesterday, they are good fillies. However, they will likely be overbet due to Baffert’s Hall of Fame achievements and his dominance in these major juvenile stakes at Los Alamitos in recent years.

In my view, Baffert’s hand is stronger in the Los Alamitos Futurity, where he has entered Improbable and Mucho Gusto. Both colts are 2 for 2, each having won his debut followed by a stakes.

Although Mucho Gusto was gritty in winning the Grade 3 Bob Hope over fellow Futurity entrant Savagery, Improbable is my choice to win the Futurity. He impressed with an emphatic 7 1/4-length victory in the Street Sense on the undercard of the first of the two Breeders’ Cup days.

Still, it is difficult for me to foresee a scenario where Improbable starts at a backable price in the Futurity. The Futurity, like the Starlet, drew only six entrants, and it seems to have less top-to-bottom competitiveness, leading me to believe that Improbable will be 4-5 odds, maybe even less.

That makes it a race to watch, but not wager, for this horseplayer – an all-too-common occurrence for me when it comes to Southern California racing. As much as I appreciate the talent of its top horses, I grow frustrated by the lack of depth in races there, even when there is Grade 1 prestige on the line.

This condition is not unique to California, though it does seem worst out West – leading in part to nine Grade 1 races on dirt in California this year being won by horses that were even-money or shorter odds.

On Saturday, I will be hoping for more than even-money if I am right about Vibrance in the Starlet – she is the 5-2 third choice on the morning line – though California history has taught me to temper expectations.

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