A rematch of last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint battle at Santa Anita between the victorious Ventura and champion filly Indian Blessing looms in the $300,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) Jan. 31. But after entries were taken Jan. 28, trainer Bob Baffert said he was unsure if Indian Blessing would run.
“I entered, but I don’t know yet (if she’ll run)," he said after his surprise move. "I’m just going to see how the race shapes up.”
Eight fillies and mares were entered in the Santa Monica, which is contested at seven furlongs on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface. Ventura was assigned top weight of 123 pounds, one more than Indian Blessing.
Indian Blessing’s inclusion in the entries appeared to even have caught Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Ventura, a bit off guard. “Even if she runs six lengths slower than she did in the Breeders’ Cup, she still should win,” Frankel had said of Ventura in speaking to the Daily Racing Form earlier in the week.
Baffert said he was pleased that Indian Blessing won an Eclipse Award as the nation's top female sprinter over finalists Ventura and Intangaroo. It was the second Eclipse in as many years for Indian Blessing, a daughter of Indian Charlie who races for Patti and Hal Earnhardt. She was also champion 2-year-old filly in 2007.
“It’s great that she won the Eclipse,” Baffert said, “because horses should be acknowledged for their accomplishments.”
Indian Blessing has had one race since finishing second to Ventura by four lengths in the Oct. 24 Breeders' Cup race. That came in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 27 when she defeated six 3-year-old filly rivals by 1 1/2 lengths as the 3-5 choice. Indian Blessing has won nine of 12 lifetime starts and has never been worse than second while amassing earnings of $2,437,200.
John Velazquez, who was aboard Indian Blessing for her two most recent starts as well as for grade I victories in New York in the Prioress and Darley Test, has the call if she goes.
Ventura, a 5-year-old Juddmonte Farms homebred, has not raced since the Breeders' Cup, which produced her third lifetime win in four tries on a synthetic surface. She was superb in the Filly & Mare Sprint, circling the field five wide on the turn and blowing past the favored Indian Blessing in the stretch to register one of the most impressive victories of the two-day racing festival. She completed the seven furlongs over the Pro-Ride surface in a blistering 1:19.90.
The daughter of Chester House is a grade I winner on grass, taking Belmont Park's Just A Game in June. She has fashioned a 7-5-1 record in 15 lifetime starts while banking $1,359,315. The Kentucky-bred mare began her career with eight races in England before being shipped to the U.S. early last year. Her regular rider is Garrett Gomez.
Frankel also entered Juddmonte's Jibboom in the Santa Monica. Winner of Keeneland's Raven Run (gr. II) on Polytrack in October 2007 by 4 1/2 lengths, the 5-year-old Mizzen Mast mare is coming off back-to-back grass wins on the West Coast, most recently on the hillside course at Santa Anita in the Jan. 3 Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT).
Others in the field include grade III winner Baroness Thatcher and She's Cheeky, who is making her stakes debut while riding a three-race winning streak. Stakes winners Wake Up Maggie and Tizzy's Tune and six-time bridesmaid So Long Sonoma complete the field.
$300,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I, Race 7, 3:36 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 7 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Tizzy's Tune (KY), 114, Joel Rosario
2. So Long Sonoma (KY), 112, Mike E. Smith
3. She's Cheeky (KY), 113, Alex O. Solis
4. Indian Blessing (KY), 122, John R. Velazquez
5. Wake Up Maggie (IRE), 115, Tyler Baze
6. Jibboom (KY), 115, Rafael Bejarano
7. Ventura (KY), 123, Garrett K. Gomez
8. Baroness Thatcher (KY), 115, Joseph Talamo