12/06/2012 3:10PM

Hollywood Park: Executiveprivilege out for big finish in Hollywood Starlet

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Barbara D. Livingston
Executiveprivilege will have a new rider in Mike Smith and add blinkers for the Hollywood Starlet.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The only blemish on Executiveprivilege’s six-race campaign is a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

The loss still stings Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, largely because it may cost Executiveprivilege the championship as the nation’s outstanding 2-year-old filly of 2012.

“She could be undefeated,” he said earlier this week.

Executiveprivilege can make a late bid for the support of voters when she starts as a heavy favorite in Saturday’s $500,000 Hollywood Starlet Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park. The Starlet is a Grade 1 and is run over a track where Executiveprivilege is unbeaten. Last summer, she won a maiden race and the Landaluce Stakes with little difficulty here.

She won two Grade 1 races in September – the Del Mar Debutante and Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita – but was beaten a length by Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup.

For Saturday’s race, Baffert has implemented two noteworthy changes, both firsts for Executiveprivilege: Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has the mount, and the filly will be fitted with blinkers.

The addition of Smith reflects a change in Baffert’s approach to employing jockeys. Rafael Bejarano rode many of the stable’s leading horses earlier this year, but Baffert has opted to “spread it around” in recent weeks. Smith rode Game On Dude to a victory in the Native Diver Stakes for Baffert last weekend.

Bejarano was aboard Executiveprivilege for her first six starts. In the BC Juvenile Fillies, she was as far back as fourth on the turn and was beaten a length after drifting wide in the final furlong.

“The strategy in the Breeders’ Cup was not the way to go, but it’s over now,” Baffert said.

The blinkers are designed to keep Executiveprivilege “from ducking out,” Baffert said. “It cost her the Breeders’ Cup. She’s been working with blinkers.”

Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, Executiveprivilege is part of a field of eight in the Starlet, which is run over 1 1/16 miles and is the ninth on a 10-race program. The Starlet is part of the qualifying system for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3.

The Kentucky Oaks field will be determined by a points system in 2013. The first four finishers of the Starlet receive qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 basis.

Baffert insists that Executiveprivilege’s loss in the BC Juvenile Fillies is not why she is running on Saturday, that he is not trying to impress uncertain voters before the end of the year.

“I was going to run her anyway,” Baffert said. “She’s doing well. I’ve got to run her.”

The Starlet field features two other stakes winners – Miss Empire, who has won two minor stakes, and Midnight Ballet, the winner of the Sharp Cat Stakes here in her stakes debut on Nov. 11. Miss Empire won the Pike Place Dancer Stakes on turf at Golden Gate Fields on Oct. 27, but was ninth in the Grade 3 Miesque Stakes on turf here Nov. 24.

Midnight Ballet closed from sixth in a field of seven to win the Sharp Cat over 1 1/16 miles by three-quarters of a length over Renee’s Titan, who starts in the Starlet. Saturday’s field also drew Scarlet Strike, who was third in that race.

A quick pace from the Baffert-trained maiden race winner Blonde Fog, or Rhodium, fourth in the Sharp Cat, will help Midnight Ballet, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.

“The two turns is to her advantage,” trainer Tom Proctor said. “I hope they go quite fast, but we’ll let Julien ride her and see what happens. I didn’t think I’d fit this well.

“I kind of like her chances. To run for a half-million at this time of year is pretty good.”

Renee’s Titan will be closer to the front. She fought for the lead with Scarlet Strike in the last furlong of the Sharp Cat, edging that filly but failing to hold off Midnight Ballet.

“She likes the track, and I think she can run well,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “We like our filly and the distance won’t be a problem.

Asked if he can beat Executiveprivilege, O’Neill had a quick answer.

“I think we can,” he said.