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Tim Yakteen’s Blessed Touch takes on 3 Bob Baffert fillies in Starlet

Pierre and Leslie Amestoy picked out a nice filly during a sale in Florida this past April for $140,000. She’s run well in two of her three starts, including an impressive second-place finish behind the highly regarded Justique in the Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar on Nov. 19.

Blessed Touch, a daughter of Girvin, is part of a seven-horse lineup in Saturday’s $300,000 Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos. She’s ready to strut her stuff for the first time beyond 7 furlongs and perhaps show she’s one of the top 2-year-old fillies in the Southland.

All she has to do is beat three Bob Baffert fillies, including 7-5 morning-line favorite Faiza, Doinitthehardway and Fast and Shiny, to collect the top prize of $180,000. Baffert has won the Starlet for five consecutive years.

It’s a daunting task, trying to beat Baffert when he’s loaded for bear, but it’s an opportunity trainer Tim Yakteen cherishes as he readies Blessed Touch for battle.

“It’s part of the overall sport, the competitiveness,” the former Baffert and Charlie Whittingham assistant said during a phone interview this week. “It’s nice to take those challenges on. I feel lucky that I can run in a Grade I and I have a nice filly that I feel can compete against Bob’s trio.”

Blessed Touch finished a troubled fifth, beaten 10¼ lengths, in her career debut on Sept. 11 at Del Mar while breaking as a 21-1 longshot. The bettors obviously saw something they liked in the race because she went off at 5-1 in her next start at Santa Anita on Oct. 8 and graduated, winning by 8¾ lengths under Drayden Van Dyke.

“She had trained very well into (her debut),” Yakteen said. “We didn’t have a clean trip in her first out and when you have a young horse that has a troubled trip in her first out, you’ll see a huge form reversal in their second race, even though her first race really wasn’t that bad. It’s probably why she was bet in her second race.”

Then came the showdown against Justique, a daughter of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.

“I thought she ran dynamite that day,” Yakteen said. “We ran into a very contested pace scenario and she was able to run away from those horses, (but) the race had set up well for Justique. She’s a very nice horse. We ran second. We were beaten by two lengths, but we beat the third horse by six lengths that day.”

Blessed Touch’s fourth start, the 1-1/16-mile Starlet, will be her first around two turns. No horseman knows if a horse can successfully navigate a distance of ground until they actually do it, but Yakteen is confident his filly can turn the trick.

“I’m comfortable running her around two turns,” he said. “We’ll see, but I’m pretty comfortable and confident that she should be able to handle the two turns. She’s just got a really nice stride to her, the way she’s put together gives me that impression. She didn’t shut it down in her last race, she kept going, so she definitely gives us the impression that she wants to go further and can handle the distance.”

A man who worked for both Whittingham and Baffert, two of the best ever at their craft, should know.

“I learned so much from both trainers and to say I learned one particular aspect that I utilize in my day-to-day routine versus another trainer would be kinda like asking what did you learn from your father that you didn’t learn from your mother?” Yakteen said.

“I was very lucky to work for both of them. I learned everything I know from the two of them, but I didn’t learn everything they know.”

Faiza, a first-out winner by 3½ lengths at Del Mar on Nov. 12, appears to be the horse to beat in the Starlet. The race was run as the Hollywood Starlet (1981-2013) until Hollywood Park closed in December 2013.

Baffert’s streak of Starlet winners includes Dream Tree (2017), Chasing Yesterday (2018), Bast (2019), Varda (2020) and Eda last year.

The Starlet is scheduled as the final race on a nine-race card and is scheduled to go postward at 4:30 p.m.

Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73

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