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HOLLYWOOD PARK : They Can Color Cara Rafaela a Starlet Winner


The people who keep track of these things can't decide whether Cara Rafaela is a gray or a roan, a fine color distinction in the realm of horse hairs. More certain is that the 2-year-old filly comes to run, and Saturday she defeated the heavily favored Advancing Star by a head in the $137,500 Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park.

In a hard-fought stretch drive, the last few strides made the difference as Cara Rafaela, with Corey Nakatani riding for the first time since her Eastern campaign started in early fall, collared Advancing Star and Gary Stevens from the outside. Advancing Star, bet down to 3-5, had been undefeated, winning her two races by total margins of 12 lengths, but the 1 1/16-mile Starlet was her first test around two turns.

By contrast, the seasoned Cara Rafaela had run eight times, winning the 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades at Keeneland in October and finishing second at Belmont Park, a half-length behind My Flag, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, another race that was the same distance as the Starlet. Cara Rafaela had had three other second-place finishes, one by only a neck against her stablemate, Golden Attraction, in the Matron at Belmont.

The Starlet victory, worth $137,500, was Cara Rafaela's third victory and her first since the Alcibiades. It made up for a dull fourth-place effort in the minor stake at Churchill Downs only a week after the tough Breeders' Cup race. "You couldn't keep her on the ground after the Breeders' Cup," trainer Wayne Lukas said. "She was feeling so good that I decided to run her. But I read her wrong, and that was my mistake. That was a misjudgment deluxe on my part."

Advancing Star was the only speed in the Starlet, and Lukas feared that trainer Richard Mandella's filly might coast to the quarter pole and then prove uncatchable. "But I don't care if they go the first part in 48 [seconds]," Lukas told Nakatani before the race. "Just let them do it."

Actually, with the horses running into a backstretch headwind that was estimated at 20 mph, the first half-mile went by in :47 2/5, with Advancing Star on the lead and Cara Rafaela outside horses in fourth place, three lengths from the lead. The other contenders dropped out on the turn, leaving the stretch run to Lukas' filly and Advancing Star.

"She was going easy on the middle of the turn," Nakatani said, "and we just kicked on. It concerned me a little bit when Gary got the first jump on me, because of the way the track had been playing. But I knew my filly had a lot of experience, and I knew she would keep on going. To me, it was just a matter of the other filly stopping in front of me."

The second choice, Cara Rafaela paid $5.60 to win and finished in 1:43, which was 1 1/5 seconds slower than Serena's Song's stakes-record time when she won the Starlet for Lukas and Nakatani a year ago. Advancing Star finished six lengths in front of her stablemate, Chile Chatte, who took third by 4 1/2 lengths over Wheatly Special. Cosmic Fire was last in the five-horse field.

"I stole away a little from Corey at the eighth pole," Stevens said, "and I thought I was going to be able to hold him off. A lot of times when you get the jump on a horse like that, it will jerk the heart out of them a little. But that wasn't the case here. [Cara Rafaela] just kept grinding and grinding the last 100 yards, and my filly was getting really weary with me."

This was Lukas' fourth victory in the Starlet. The best young filly in his barn, Golden Attraction, was also ready to run, but he decided to give Cara Rafaela's owners, Goncalo and Regina Borges Torrealba, a chance to win a Grade I race. The Torrealbas, who live in Rio de Janeiro, bought the filly at a yearling auction for $70,000 and named her after their daughter.

Because of sore shins, Advancing Star didn't get to the races until late October. In sprints, she beat maidens at Santa Anita by eight lengths and a month later won a minor stake at Hollywood Park by four.

"My filly ran her heart out, but the other filly was just a nose [actually, a head] better," Mandella said. "My filly's only had three races, and she didn't do anything wrong in this one. This was our first goal, and we'll regroup to see what happens next."


Horse Racing Notes

Pat Valenzuela, not riding for the third day this week, was replaced by Eddie Delahoussaye aboard Cosmic Fire in the Starlet. "The first day he was off, Pat said he had jet lag from a trip to Hong Kong," steward Dave Samuel said. "The second time, he said that he had the flu. He was coughing on the phone when he called in sick [Saturday]." . . . Flag Down, owned by Allen Paulson, beat Mecke by a half-length to win the $150,000 McKnight Handicap at Calder Race Course in Florida. Varadavour, winner of the Burke Handicap at Santa Anita, finished fifth. Flag Down's time of 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles was a stakes record. . . . Lit De Justice, third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, runs today in an allowance race at Hollywood.

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