12/16/2005 1:00AM

Fall in Love a sweet choice in Starlet


Balance, here winning the Sharp Cat, will likely be well-bet in the Starlet.

PHOENIX - The absence of top fillies Folklore and Wild Fit gives others a chance to shine in Sunday's Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. Often this race proves a springboard to a huge 3-year-old season for a filly who might not have been ready for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. A number of promising fillies are hoping to make this 1 1/16-mile race serve that purpose again.

Balance comes off a smashing victory in the Sharp Cat at Hollywood. She has yet to be beaten to the wire in three career outings, although she was disqualified from victory in the Hidden Light on turf at Oak Tree. Meetmeinthewoods has made just one start, but it was a doozy. She roared home by over five lengths in a sensational 1:08.75 for six furlongs, good enough for a gaudy Beyer Speed Figure of 100, at Hollywood Park Nov. 27 on the Sharp Cat card.

True Xena, Private World, Diplomat Lady, and East Coast shipper Sabatini help make this a contentious event, and a good wagering one.

Which leads me to Fall in Love. Unbeaten in two starts, this daughter of In Excess holds loads of promise. Trained by Jean-Pierre Dupuis, she debuted at Oak Tree on Nov. 3. She stalked the pace, took over into the lane, and drew off to win with ease, earning a Beyer Figure of 84. She came back at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27. Again she stalked the pace under Tony Farina and drew off to win well in hand, this time by four lengths. Her Beyer wasn't as strong this time (76), but she had plenty in reserve and surely could have gone faster.

"She is a very good filly," said the French-born Dupuis. "In her last she was drawing away at the end."

Dupuis believes she will handle the extra distance of the Starlet.

"She is very easy to train," he said. "She is push-button. You can ask her to go five furlongs in 58 or 1:03."

Fall in Love looks even better after being flattered by Nostalgie, a 3-year-old filly who romped to an easy maiden victory over a week ago.

"Nostalgie is her pacemaker in the morning," said Dupuis.

Fall in Love is bred to be a good one. Her dam, Emerald Express, won her maiden by 5 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita and won a Hollywood allowance by 11. She ran only four times.

Fall in Love's preparation has gone flawlessly. She worked seven furlongs in 1:30.20 under Farina in preparation for this big test.

"She worked perfect, very easy," said Dupuis. "She doesn't need to work fast.

"I've trained some good horses, but Fall in Love is in a different class."

Balance's strong record and the huge maiden win by Meetmeinthewoods will draw most of the attention, and rightly so. The good news for Fall in Love fans, though, is that she will be in the 6-1 to 8-1 range. That can make a big dent when those Christmas credit card bills start arriving.

A wish list for 2006

As we get ready for a new season of racing, there are certain things I'd very much like to see.

* Derby validation: The last few years, the Derby winner has either been injured and retired or failed to thrive the following season. Giacomo's Derby win was a bit of a head-scratcher to be sure, but the Derby winner he is, and he has the look of a horse who can go on and do big things as an older horse. He is working steadily for his return after some minor surgery. It would be nice to have a Derby winner come back to be a force in the handicap ranks.

* Order to female chaos: With no Ashado to be the measuring stick, no Pleasant Home to validate her monster BC Distaff win, and no Sweet Catomine to anchor the newest set of fillies and mares, this is a division desperately seeking a leader. Smuggler will come back soon, but she is coming off an illness. Star Parade sure looked good winning the Bayakoa, and Dream of Summer is awfully nice, but wouldn't it be nice to find some filly or mare ready to do an Azeri?

* Greener grass: The lack of turf racing at Hollywood sets things up nicely for a big turf season at Santa Anita. Juddmonte Farms and Bobby Frankel have a pair of grass horses who could make some noise. Cacique is a full brother to monsters Banks Hill and Intercontinental. He held his own against Group 1 competition in Europe and is working now toward a Santa Anita debut. Three Valleys, while disappointing back East in the fall, gives those same connections a double-barreled attack.

* Ending the "curse": Stevie Wonderboy beat a top group in the BC Juvenile, and with his pedigree and looks has every right to go on and be a big-time 3-year-old. I know, I know, no BC Juvenile winner has won the Derby, but that's been more a function of circumstance and situation - it's not a curse. Here's hoping Stevieboy can blow that notion out of the water for good.