12/13/2007 12:00AM

Country Star tops gifted Starlet cast

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Country Star's wide-rallying Alcibiades victory was spectacular.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It takes a special filly to earn her first career victory in a Grade 1 the way that Country Star did in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in October.

With an eight-wide rally on the turn, Country Star powered past a strong field to win by a length. The performance vaulted Country Star to a position among the top 2-year-old fillies in that nation. She can prove she belongs at that level in Saturday's $421,500 Hollywood Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park.

The Grade 1 Starlet, run at 1 1/16 miles, has drawn a strong field of nine, and is the final major race of the year for the division. Country Star will be tested by such fillies as Set Play, the winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante in September; Grace Anatomy, a troubled third in the Alcibiades; Foxy Danseur, the winner of the Sharp Cat Stakes last month; and the unbeaten Spritely, who is making her stakes debut.

Owned and bred by Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable, Country Star will be favored. Rafael Bejarano has the mount. Bejarano was aboard for Country Star's first two starts, beginning with a second in a maiden race on turf at Belmont Park on Sept. 20.

Despite her win in the Alcibiades, Country Star was never really considered for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park in late October, said her trainer, Bobby Frankel.

"It crossed my mind that I wasn't going to run," he said. "If I had entered her, I wouldn't have run her on that."

The Monmouth Park track was a sea of slop on Breeders' Cup Saturday.

Frankel believes that one of Country Star's most significant assets is patience. She has come from off the pace in her first two starts.

"She'll be following somebody," he said. "She's a nice strong filly and looks very good. She's a pretty filly. She'll outlook the field, I know that."

Whether she can outrun her rivals depends on whether Country Star will repeat the kick that carried her to the front in the final furlong of the Alcibiades. In recent weeks, Country Star has worked quickly at Hollywood Park, a point that Frankel slightly downplayed.

"This track is so fast," he said. "She'll do what you want. If you put her in company, she'll go quickly. If you work alone, she'll go easy."

Country Star should have a pace to follow. Foxy Danseur led throughout the Sharp Cat at 1 1/16 miles on Nov.o17. The Golden Noodle, another Starlet entrant, was with the leaders for the first half-mile of the seven-furlong Moccasin Stakes on Nov. 11 before fading to finish third.

Similar to Country Star, Grace Anatomy figures to be in the middle of the field in the first half of the race. She was unprepared at the start of the Alcibiades and still closed to lead in the stretch before fading to finish third. She later finished seventh in the BC Juvenile Fillies.

Mike Smith, who was aboard in the Alcibiades, retains the mount in the Starlet.

"In the Alcibiades, Mike was so upset that she was playing around" at the start, trainer Doug O'Neill said. "It definitely cost her better positioning."

Another closer in excellent form is Grace and Power, who is making her graded stakes debut. Trained by Steve Klesaris for famous chef Bobby Flay, Grace and Power has won 2 of 4 starts, racing exclusively on turf.

Spritely is making her stakes debut and first start beyond seven furlongs. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Spritely beat maidens at Turfway Park in September and won a first-level allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 9, leading throughout.

Michael McCarthy, who runs Pletcher's California stable, does not see Spritely as a committed front-runner.

"I don't think she needs to press the pace," McCarthy said. "If that's where she ends up, so be it. With racing, she'll get better. She's just starting to pick things up now."

The Starlet could be a milestone race for Pletcher. A win would give him his 57th graded stakes win of 2007, equaling the record he set in 2006.