Two-time champion Indian Blessing notched her first victory of the season and earned her way back to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships by outdueling Sara Louise in a thrilling finish to win the $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) by a head Sept. 26 at Belmont Park. It was the Bob Baffert trainee’s second consecutive win in the 6 1/2-furlong contest.
Under jockey John Velazquez, Indian Blessing turned for home with a narrow lead over 3-year-old Sara Louise, who was facing older fillies and mares for the first time in the Gallant Bloom. Those two dueled the length of the stretch, with Sara Louise and Edgar Prado doing their best to close ground while racing on the outside of their rival.
Sara Louise, the last horse to defeat Rachel Alexandra, finally caught Indian Blessing two jumps from the wire, but the daughter of Indian Charlie stuck her nose down at the perfect time to win the photo. The final time over a main track labeled “fast” was 1:15.29.
Sky Haven was 3 1/2 lengths back in third.
Indian Blessing broke a step slowly and was rushed up a bit to keep pace with 6-year-old multiple graded stakes winner Any Limit, who took the field of six around in a :22.29 opening quarter-mile. Indian Blessing continued her assault on the front and took a narrow lead from Thunders Dove and Sara Louise through a :45.15 half-mile. When they turned for home, it was a two-horse race.
"She put up a really good fight today," Velazquez said. "She didn’t leave out of there all that well, and I had to use her a little bit to get position. I let her be comfortable, and wait. When the hole opened up, I took the spot, and went on with her.
"I tell you, the other filly was a brave one, too. She kept coming back to me. The more I asked my filly, the more the other one kept coming back. It was a good effort for both fillies.”
It was an important victory for 4-year-old Indian Blessing since she had disappointed in her last two races, including a distant runner-up finish to Music Note last out in the Aug. 29 Ballerina (gr. I) at Saratoga. Prior to that, the dark bay filly was fourth in the Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park, her only time off the board in 15 lifetime starts. This triumph earned her automatic trip to Santa Anita Park for the Nov. 6 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (gr. I), an event she finished runner-up in last season.
"I think she ran incredibly today," said Baffert's assistant, Tonja Terranova. "Sara Louise is a really nice filly, but (Indian Blessing) had been training super. Everyone was really confident and she ran her eyeballs out."
Indian Blessing won her first five career starts in 2007, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), and was named champion 2-year-old filly that season. Last year, she scored three straight graded stakes in New York, capped by a 6 1/4-length romp in the Gallant Bloom. Despite finishing runner-up to Ventura in the Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, she won an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top female sprinter.
A homebred of Hal and Patti Earnhardt, Indian Blessing improved her record to 10-5-0 from 16 starts and bumped her earnings to $2,995,420. She is out of the Flying Chevron mare Shameful.
Sent off as the second choice, Indian Blessing paid $4.80, $2.70, and $2.20. The exacta (2-3) with 6-5 favorite Sara Louise returned $8.60. The trifecta (2-3-4) was $46.40.
It was a tough defeat for Godolphin Racing's Sara Louise, who entered off a score in the Aug. 29 Victory Ride (gr. III) at Saratoga, her first race in nine months.
"She tried hard; she broke sharp and let the speed go," Prado said. "She was in a good spot, just unfortunately (Indian Blessing) got through inside. My filly fought real hard, though."
Thunders Dove was fourth, followed by P. S. U. Grad, and Any Limit. American Queen was scratched.