12/19/2003 1:00AM

Rahy Dolly in deep vs. Victory U. S. A.


PHOENIX - Making a big splash isn't always necessarily a good thing. Sometimes it raises expectations too high. A horse dazzles in its debut, and instead of taking the next logical step, he is thrown into the deep end of the pool. Some swim, most sink.

It happened last October in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Forest Music had won her debut at Laurel Park by more than eight lengths with a dazzling 105 Beyer Speed Figure, but only 17 days later was thrown in against the country's best 2-year-old fillies. Forest Music showed speed, then fell apart.

A similar scenario might take place in Sunday's closing-day feature at Hollywood Park, the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, as Rahy Dolly attempts to take a giant step forward off a big debut. Trained by Rafael Becerra, she made a smashing bow at Santa Anita Nov. 9, winning by 11 lengths and earning a 100 Beyer. But with only one race behind her, she will be asked to take on some of the top 2-year-old fillies in the Starlet.

There are some differences between Forest Music's task on Breeders' Cup Day and Rahy Dolly's on Sunday. First, Rahy Dolly isn't facing all the best possible foes. Halfbridled and Ashado are not in the Starlet. But Rahy Dolly will meet Victory U. S. A., who is proven top-class. Victory U. S. A. won her debut by six-plus lengths, ran third behind Halfbridled in the Del Mar Debutante, then shipped cross-country and ran second in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont. Next, she ran third in the BC Juvenile Fillies, then won the Moccasin last month in a laugher. She is the filly to beat in the Starlet.

Rahy Dolly will be tested not only by Victory U. S. A. but also by stretching out in distance, from a sprint in her debut to this 1 1/16-mile race. The combination of a big step up in class and a stretchout spelled disaster for Forest Music. And it can happen again, to Rahy Dolly.

Still, there are options for bettors averse to taking a short price on Victory U. S. A. One is Hollywood Story, who is a maiden but is also quite possibly the best maiden filly around. She ran second to Halfbridled in the Del Mar Debutante, beating Victory U. S. A., and ran third to Halfbridled in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf. She then ran fourth, just behind Victory U. S. A., in the BC Juvenile Fillies. Since then, Hollywood Story has come back to work a bullet six furlongs in 1:12.20 for trainer John Shirreffs.

Still, the Starlet goes through Victory U. S .A. David Flores will replace the injured Julie Krone in the saddle, but Victory U. S. A. has run well for Mike Smith and Jerry Bailey as well as for Krone, so a jockey change should present no problem. Another plus: Victory U. S. A.'s trainer, Bob Baffert, will be going for his third Starlet win in the last six years. "All my good 2-year-old fillies have been different, but Victory U. S. A. is a lot like Habibti, a light filly but very talented," Baffert said.

Habibti won the Starlet in 2001. It will be an upset if Victory U. S. A. doesn't follow in her footsteps.

Santa Anita mini-preview

Expect the Santa Anita meet, which opens Friday, to start with a bang. The seven-furlong Malibu on Friday is always tough, bringing together sprinters and routers as well as sharp horses and horses with class who are returning to action. The early nod here goes to the Bobby Frankel-trained Watchem Smokey, who was impressive in defeating such elders as ace sprinter Avanzado in the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood. Watchem Smokey has the look of a comer.