12/10/2015 3:44PM

Hovdey: Winning Starlet the least of Pegram's concerns


Mike Pegram has never won the Starlet Stakes, which is no big deal because a lot of owners have never won the Starlet Stakes and would like to very much. But Pegram has not won the Starlet Stakes despite owning nice fillies like Silverbulletday, Executiveprivilege, Pussycat Doll, Hookedonthefeelin, Favored One, Arches of Gold, Censored, Miss Gibson County, and Queen of Money. You’d think one of them would have stumbled into the winner’s circle just by accident.

“Maybe so,” Pegram said. “I don’t have to tell you how tough it gets when a Grade 1 race is on the line. But there’s one thing I know for sure. Nobody’s going to listen to me if I start complaining.”

The man has a point. Pegram’s horses have won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Dubai World Cup, among many other coveted events, so it isn’t as if he’s been slacking off. But if Pegram is ever going to win the Starlet Stakes, he might need to do it with Pretty N Cool on Saturday at Los Alamitos Race Course, where the $300,000 event for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles will be run for the 36th time, and maybe the last.

Yes, here we go again, another flare-up of California’s ongoing struggle with PHSD (post-Hollywood stress disorder), with symptoms not unlike those experienced by an abandoned child. Note to industry: Daddy’s not coming home.

For the last two years, the management of Los Alamitos was willing to commit the $300,000 required to maintain Grade 1 status for both the Starlet and the Los Alamitos Futurity (aka the Hollywood or CashCall Futurity), despite the fact that parimutuel handle projections could not really justify such purses. In 2014 the gesture netted two of the most exciting races of the West Coast juvenile scene, won by the young guns Dortmund and Take Charge Brandi.

Now that reality has set in, Dr. Ed Allred and his Los Alamitos team have given notice they will not be able to offer either the Starlet or the Futurity in 2016. So where will these orphans go? As president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, Pegram has a vital interest in their adoption.

“We’re going to have a Starlet and a Futurity if the TOC has anything to say about it,” Pegram said. “We’re not that stupid, I hope. Where we’re going to have them is a good question. But I don’t think it’s good policy for California racing to be giving up Grade 1 races.”

The only real possibilities for rescheduling the two events would find them at the end of the autumn Del Mar meet, barely a month after the Breeders’ Cup, or at the beginning of the Santa Anita meet in late December, in conflict with established 3-year-old events of the coming year.

Pegram and the TOC also find themselves in the midst of a struggle among the current racetrack players to solve Southern California’s year-round stabling conundrum. Obvious solutions – like building a new stable area at Santa Anita or turning Del Mar into a 12-month training site – have yet to overcome financial and political obstacles. A long-term arrangement with Los Alamitos seems to be within reach, but even that has run into recent roadblocks.

As Hollywood Park came to an end in early 2014, Los Alamitos spent millions in what amounted to an overnight expansion of its five-furlong Quarter Horse oval into a one-mile course suited to training and racing Thoroughbreds, as well as a conversion of its barn area to accommodate displaced Thoroughbred trainers.

Unfortunately, the three short race meets awarded Los Alamitos in the revamped calendar have not been self-sustaining. The track’s only leverage is as a training center, and the price to the industry for such a service will be going up accordingly. How much and for how long have been the sticking points.

“We’ve always tried to come to a long-term deal with Doc,” Pegram said, referring to Allred. “And if he wants one he deserves one, in my opinion. If he doesn’t, I just hope this industry doesn’t make the same mistake twice and find itself in another Hollywood Park situation and go year by year by year without resolving anything.”

In the meantime, a race like the Starlet continues the California trend of nary a month going by without a very good race deserving national attention. Songbird may be sitting this one out after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but her stablemate Stays in Vegas brings four stakes wins to the table, while Pretty N Cool won the only major West Coast race for the division this year that Songbird did not.

A daughter of Scat Daddy and the Rock Harbor mare Stayclassysandiego (thank you, Ron Burgundy), Pretty N Cool hit the water with a splash last summer by winning the Sorrento Stakes in only her second start. Pretty N Cool’s subsequent race in the Del Mar Debutante was every bit as impressive, as she took the battle to favored Songbird from the start and did not give an inch until deep in the stretch.

After that, trainer Bob Baffert sent Pretty N Cool to New York for a smart Grade 2 payday in the Matron, then circled the seven-furlong Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar last month as a sitting duck. To everyone’s surprise – or at least to those who took the 3-5 odds – Pretty N Cool loomed like a champ then folded like a cheap suit.

“Anyone who plans on winning anything in this game, you will get humbled in a hurry,” Pegram said. “It was a good thing I wasn’t betting at the quarter pole, otherwise I’d be working for somebody else now. She looked like a winner, then just emptied out.”

Pretty N Cool has worked three times since the Desi Arnaz flop. Martin Garcia, her only rider so far, is back on board.

“In the end, I think that one was a throw-out,” Pegram said. “The fact you see her right back in this race stretching out is self-explanatory. There’s a reason Baffert is in the Hall of Fame, so whatever it was with her that day he has figured it out.

“Remember,” Pegram added, “Bob had a major in animal science in college, although I still don’t know exactly what that is.”