Champion filly Indian Blessing, whose flashy three-race winning streak was ended by Ventura in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita two months ago, returns to the track for the $250,000 La Brea Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 27.
In the aftermath of the Breeders Cup, trainer Bob Baffert said that Indian Blessing prefers dirt and struggled with Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface. Indian Blessing tracked the pace and led in the stretch before she was overtaken by four lengths in a superlative performance from Ventura. Nevertheless, the daughter of Indian Charlie is back to face nine 3-year-old fillies in the final grade I race in the United States in 2008. Baffert has won the La Brea a record five times.
“She ran a great race,” Baffert said of the Breeders' Cup effort. “She did all she could, but the winner ran a tremendous race, almost a track record.”
John Velazquez, who took over from Garrett Gomez as Indian Blessing's regular rider this summer, has the mount. Indian Blessing carries co-high weight of 123 pounds, and they break from post 4.
The seven-furlong La Brea also attracted Country Star, a two-time grade I winner as a 2-year-old, the speedster Indyanne, and Bsharpsonata, who won a pair of grade II races earlier this year.
But Indian Blessing, owned by longtime Baffert clients Patti and Hal Earnhardt, who also bred her, will be the horse to beat. Never worse than second in 11 starts, she has won eight times and earned $2,287,200. The dark bay filly won all three of her starts at 2, including easy victories in the Frizette (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), to earn an Eclipse Award.
Indian Blessing began her 3-year-old campaign with two wins, including her only victory on a synthetic track in Santa Anita's Santa Ynez (gr. II) at seven furlongs on the since-replaced Cushion Track surface. After that came the only rough spots in her career -- a pair of seconds at longer distances -- in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) and Belmont Park's Acorn (gr. I). Returned to sprinting, Indian Blessing reeled off wins in Belmont's Prioress (gr. I), Saratoga's Test (gr. I) and Belmont's Gallant Bloom (gr. II) by a combined margin of nearly 19 lengths.
She came into the Breeders' Cup on top of game, went off favored (as she has been in each of her starts), and held well to be second to the scorching hot Ventura, who was switching from the turf for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Country Star, a finalist in the Eclipse voting for top 2-year-old filly in 2007, is also trained by Frankel. Winner of the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) and Darley Alcibiades (gr. I) at Keeneland in back-to-back efforts, the daughter of Empire Maker has fought to regain that form in limited tries in 2008.
After running out of the money in both the Ashland (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), she won in her third start of the year at Saratoga in an optional claiming race Aug. 18, but has not raced since. Rafael Bejarano will guide the dark bay from the inside post.
Indyanne, trained by Greg Gilchrist, has been nothing short of amazing at times. Another daughter of Indian Charlie, she won the first four starts of her career by a combined 32 1/2 lengths, including the Azalea (gr. III) at Calder by nearly 10. After being upset in Saratoga's Victory Ride (gr. III) due to a bad break and being forced to steady, she rebounded to win the Thoroughbred Club of America (gr. III) at Keeneland Oct. 4.
In her last start, the six-furlong Sausalito Stakes at Golden Gate Fields Nov. 22, she was cooked in a speed duel (:21.37, :44.23) and finished second to the closing Siren Lure. Russell Baze, approaching another 400-win season, will ride Indyanne, who also carries 123 pounds.
Gomez hops aboard Bsharpsonata, who returned from a six-month layoff to win the Playa del Rey Stakes at Hollywood for trainer Todd Pletcher. They break from the far outside. Earlier this year, the daughter of Pulpit won both the Forward Gal and Davona Dale (both gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, part of a four-race victory streak that ended when she was beaten by a neck by Little Belle in the Ashland (gr. I) April 5.
Foxy Danseur, fifth in the Playa del Rey, and Eastern invader Never Retreat are stakes winners. Laureldean Gale, Ginger Pop, Accopela Choir and She's Cheeky round out the field.
$250,000 La Brea Stakes (gr. I, Race 8, 4 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 7 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Country Star (KY), 117, Rafael Bejarano
2. Laureldean Gale (KY), 115, Joseph Talamo
3. Never Retreat (KY), 119, Michael C. Baze
4. Indian Blessing (KY), 123, John R. Velazquez
5. Foxy Danseur (KY), 119, Mike E. Smith
6. Indyanne (KY), 123, Russell A. Baze
7. Ginger Pop (KY), 117, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
8. Accopela Choir (KY), 117, Alonso Quinonez
9. She's Cheeky (KY), 119, Alex O. Solis
10. Bsharpsonata (FL), 119, Garrett K. Gomez