12/19/2003 1:00AM

Victory U. S. A.'s time to shine

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Benoit & Associates
Julie Krone, riding Victory U. S. A. to a win in the Moccasin Stakes, will not ride in Sunday's Hollywood Starlet due to an injury that will keep her out until January.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Battle-tested at Santa Anita against the best fillies in the nation in the Breeders' Cup, Victory U. S. A. has found the competition easier at Hollywood Park this fall.

She won her first stakes in the Moccasin Stakes over seven furlongs Nov. 16, a race that trainer Bob Baffert described as an ideal prep to Sunday's $355,000 for 2-year-old fillies.

With division leader Halfbridled waiting for the 3-year-old stakes at the upcoming Santa Anita meeting, the Starlet is an opportunity for several fillies to gain a victory in a Grade 1 stakes and a place among the best of the division.

Baffert thinks Victory U. S. A. is worthy of such regard. He was impressed with her victory in the Moccasin, when she rallied from fifth under Julie Krone to score by seven lengths.

"I think Julie Krone gave her a good schooling," Baffert said. "She ate dirt and got a lot out of that race."

Krone is out until January with an injury, leaving David Flores with the ride on Victory U. S. A. in the Starlet, run over 1 1/16 miles.

The Starlet is the top race on the closing day of the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

The race has drawn six fillies, including House of Fortune, the winner of a memorable California Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 8, and two fillies that were unplaced in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies - Hollywood Story (fourth) and Dixie High (eighth). The maiden winners Rahy Dolly and Rings and Things also start.

Victory U. S. A. will be a strong favorite. Aside from her win in the Moccasin, she was third in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, attending the pace behind Forest Music to the final turn and leading in early stretch before fading to finish 2 3/4 lengths behind the undefeated Halfbridled.

The race left Baffert certain that she can handle 1 1/16 miles.

"She did all the running," Baffert said. "She hooked up with the other filly coming out of there."

For the Starlet, Victory U. S. A. drew the rail. Dixie High and Rahy Dolly are likely to lead but will be closely followed by House of Fortune and Rings and Things. Hollywood Story, a maiden after four starts, is a closer.

Dixie High won the Barretts Debutante at Fairplex Park in September and was a 50-1 outsider in the Juvenile Fillies.

Trainer Adam Kitchingman said Dixie High is better than her performance in the Juvenile Fillies, when she was beaten 14 3/4 lengths after racing in traffic through the first turn.

"She did have a troubled start," said Kitchingman. "I thought we could have been fourth or fifth. They are the best 2-year-olds in the country. It was her first time going 1 1/16 miles. She's better and a stronger horse."

House of Fortune scored a half-length win in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies after a stretch-long duel with Silent Sighs. The important thing for trainer Ron McAnally was the experience House of Fortune gained over the 1 1/16 miles of that race.

"It was her first time at the distance, and she hooked a damn good filly," McAnally said. "Our filly can do whatever we want. She can be in front or come from off the pace. I think we have a nice, versatile filly that way."

House of Fortune has won her last three starts. McAnally is challenging Victory U. S. A. over 1 1/16 miles in part because Victory U. S. A. has not won over the distance. Still, McAnally admits he was impressed with Victory U. S. A.'s performance in the Moccasin.

"When she ran in the Breeders' Cup she showed speed and quit," McAnally said. "Hopefully, she doesn't want to go 1 1/16 miles."

With Victory U. S. A.'s ability as a stalker, Baffert is convinced the distance will not be a problem for her.

"Now, she's really relaxed," he said. "She's pretty sharp. She'll run a big one. She's happy and that's the main thing with her."