12/14/2001 12:00AM

Three fillies in focus for the Starlet


PHOENIX - Two will try to restore some lost luster to their reputations. Another is attempting to put herself on the map.

It's conceivable that all three will accomplish their goals, but only one 2-year-old filly will win Sunday's Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet.

The 1 1/16-mile race may lure a small field, but the entrants include Frizette winner You and Del Mar Debutante winner Habibti, both of whom were busts in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Oak Leaf winner Tali'sluckybusride, who in spite of being 2 for 2 isn't yet considered a major player in her division.

A tale of the tape:

Habibti: It was all going according to plan for Habibti. She won her maiden race nicely, then aced her first real test in the Del Mar Debutante dusting heavy favorite Tempera. She firmly established herself as queen of the West. But then came an untimely fever that forced her to miss some training and the Oak Leaf.

While Tempera was getting a freshening by choice after the Debutante, Habibti's trainer, Bob Baffert, was scrambling to catch up for the Breeders' Cup. Habibti had not run a route, and she had missed her key prep.

Time ran out. Habibti never looked anything like the filly who roared by horses in the Del Mar Debutante. She finished a non-factor seventh after stumbling at the start. Tempera romped.

But Baffert knew that Hollywood had an important race in December and immediately got back to work. The Oak Leaf should have been Habibti's prep for the Juvenile Fillies, but instead the Juvenile Fillies was her prep for the Starlet. She has been dazzling in the morning, recently posting bullet seven-furlong works of 1:24.80 and 1:23.80, easily the best at that distance. All indications are she's back to her Del Mar Debutante form. Approximate odds: 7-5.

Tali'sluckybusride: Winner of the Oak Leaf in the absence of Habibti, Tali'sluckybusride never left California this fall. She needed to be supplemented to the Juvenile Fillies, so her connections - owners Ron and Susie Anson - focused instead on the Starlet. It could have been a mistake to pass the Breeders' Cup. The form of the Oak Leaf was flattered when runner-up Imperial Gesture finished second in the Juvenile Fillies.

Trainer Alfredo Marquez says his filly is ready and that she has thrived with the recent break. "I've been waiting for this for two months," Marquez said. "We want to find out what we've got. This is the right time of year for her, because she's matured a lot. She was full of herself in the beginning, but she's more relaxed."

Last Sunday, Tali'sluckybusride worked three furlongs in 37 seconds from the gate. "I just wanted to school her in the gate and got something out of her," Marquez said. "She was getting too sharp."

That's all well and good, but can she survive what figures to be a hotter first half-mile? After all, You figures to be right at her throat. And the way she won the Del Mar Debutante, Habibti doesn't figure too far out of it. Can she take that kind of heat and keep going? Probable odds: 6-1.

You: They were singing You's praises in October and why not? She had been super, and had just topped it off with a monstrous Frizette win, beating the fast and talented Cashier's Dream by six lengths. It was another nine-plus lengths back in third to Riskaverse, who came back to win a graded stakes on turf.

Needless to say, You went into the Juvenile Fillies considered almost on par with Officer in terms of favoritism. Of course, everyone knows how that turned out. You was a non-threatening fourth, and championship aspirations seemed to go out the window.

What happened? Were her two wins over Cashier's Dream simply overrated? Remember, Cashier's Dream is almost strictly a sprinter. Perhaps people gave You too much credit for beating a sprinter going 1 1/16 miles. Or was the culprit a slight illness? Trainer Bobby Frankel reported afterward that You wasn't 100 percent.

Like Habibti, she will trying to regain some of her shine in the Starlet. She has been working solidly and steadily at Hollywood, and recently signaled her readiness with a strong six-furlong work in 1:12.60. It appears all systems are on go. Approximate odds: 6-5.

Conclusion: From a pure speed figure standpoint, on their best races You (107 Beyer in the Adirondack) would appear to have the edge over Habibti (99 in the Del Mar Debutante) and Tali'sluckybusride (85 in the Oak Leaf). Tali'sluckybusride is good, but is she capable of moving up the necessary lengths to get to the other two? You is very good, but have we seen her best, and did beating a sprinter easily going long make her look better than she really is?

My perception is that Habibti could turn out to be the best of her generation, and that includes Tempera. Her Del Mar Debutante was smashing. She was inside, with only one start under her belt, tugging Victor Espinoza out of the saddle, almost trying to run over Tempera. Habibti made Tempera look common.

And the recent works indicate she's back to that kind of condition. Beating You isn't going to be easy, but the signals here point to Habibti stamping herself queen of the hill.