12/17/2009 1:00AM

Which Baffert filly is best?


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Toro Bonito was set for a comeback after an eight-month break in mid-October when a bout with stomach cramps postponed her return at Santa Anita.

Two months later, Toro Bonito is ready again, for the fourth race at Hollywood Park on Friday. This time, she has to outrun a sharp stablemate in Gilded Gem.

Bob Baffert trains both Gilded Gem and Toro Bonito, but the pair of 3-year-old fillies will race uncoupled. Wednesday, he declined to state a preference between the fillies for Friday's race, a first-level allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs. While Toro Bonito has experience - Friday's race will be her ninth - Gilded Gem has the flashy recent win from her debut. By Smarty Jones, Gilded Gem won a maiden race over 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 and has since worked quickly.

Glided Gem "surprised us the first time out," Baffert said. "She was training well and I think she's more fit."

Toro Bonito, by El Corredor, has 1 win in 8 starts, a six-furlong maiden race at Del Mar in August 2008. She followed that with starts in six consecutive stakes, including a second in the Sharp Cat Stakes and a third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes last December.

Toro Bonito has not raced since finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita in February. Owned by breeders Hal and Patti Earnhardt, Toro Bonito did not undergo surgery earlier this year, but did need a break, Baffert said.

"It took her a long time to come back around," Baffert said. "She had a long time off."

Toro Bonito is the only filly in Friday's race with stakes experience. Most of the six entrants are seeking their second career wins, with the exception of Stevie's Afleet, who won a maiden claimer and a starter allowance earlier this fall.

* Friday's eight-race card includes a first-level optional $25,000 claimer over a mile on turf for California-breds. Red Sun, a sharp winner of a maiden race on Santa Anita's hillside turf course on Nov. 8, makes his first start against winners.

There will be support for Dirty Dish Mitch, a former claimer who was second at this level on Nov. 26, and Tamarack Smartly. Trained by Mike Puype, Tamarack Smartly makes his first start against winners, and first start since a three-length win in a maiden race for statebreds on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 22.