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Test winner Indian Blessing faces older horses for the first time in the Ruffian.
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Indian Blessing Faces New Challenge

Indian Blessing will face older horses for the first time Sept. 6

Hal and Patti Earnhardt’s homebred Indian Blessing will try older horses for the first time and stretch out past a mile once again, as she battles eight fillies and mares in the $300,000 Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) Sept. 6 at Belmont Park.

A four-time grade I winner and last year’s champion 2-year-old filly, Indian Blessing has been dominating in her last two starts, notching victories in the July 5 Prioress (gr. I) at Belmont and Aug. 2 Darley Test (gr. I) at Saratoga, both sprints. The daughter of Indian Charlie has won two of three efforts going the Ruffian distance – 1 1/16 miles – but finished a well-beaten second to Proud Spell in her most recent attempt, the March 8 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II).

Trainer Bob Baffert is confident his versatile 3-year-old can handle the distance, as she did when taking the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) last year at Monmouth Park.

“It’s a mile and a sixteenth, but it’s one turn,” said Baffert, who will also be saddling Karl Watson’s 4-year-old Tough Tiz’s Sis. “I think she’s relaxing a little bit more. Now is the time to try it. She was precocious as a 2-year-old, and she came back at 3 and won right off the bat.

“She reminds me of the Silverbulletday and Chilukki, who were the two best fillies I trained. She’s got that kind of quality.”

Bred in Kentucky and out of the Flying Chevron mare Shameful, Indian Blessing has earned just a shade under $2 million from her nine starts, seven of which have been wins. Although Baffert is anxious to see how she can handle 1 1/16 miles once again, he is still convinced she is best while sprinting.

“In order to be the 3-year-old filly champion, I’d have to run her in the Ladies’ Classic (at 1 1/8th miles) and I don’t think I want to do that,” he said. “It’s up to me to put her in the right spot. If all goes well, the Ruffian gives her plenty of time before the Breeders’ Cup (at Santa Anita Oct. 24) and I can just freshen her up for the Filly & Mare Sprint.”  

John Velazquez will retain the mount for the third consecutive start.

A bigger challenge than the distance is how Indian Blessing will fare against a talented group of older horses. Among those she will have to face is stablemate Tough Tiz’s Sis, who has placed in all five of her graded stakes effort in 2008. The 4-year-old daughter of Tiznow  won the Hawthorne Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park and missed by only a half-length to undefeated Zenyatta in the Vanity (gr. I). While she has made five starts on synthetic surfaces this season, her lone dirt effort was a victory, that coming March 16 in the Harry Henson Handicap at Sunland Park. Edgar Prado will ride.

Also figuring to be a tough customer is Millennium Farms’ Copper State, runner-up in her last three starts. The 4-year-old daughter of Jump Start  missed by only 1 1/4 lengths to champion Ginger Punch in her most recent effort, the July 26 Go for Wand (gr. I) at Saratoga.  Bred in Illinois and trained by Steve Asmussen, Copper State will be seeking her first graded stakes score.

The other 3-year-old in the field is Godolphin’s Little Belle, who won the Ashland (gr. I) earlier this season, but has run into tough competition in her last three starts. The A.P. Indy filly was runner-up to Proud Spell in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and second to stablemate Music Note in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Belmont in July. She finished behind those two last out as well, taking third in the Aug. 16 Alabama (gr. I).

Little Belle will be coupled with Stage Luck, a Tom Albertrani trainee entering off a lengthy layoff and looking to improve off a fourth-place finish in the Next Move Handicap (gr. III).

$300,000 Ruffian Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Little Belle (KY), 113, Rajiv Maragh
2. Rite Moment (KY), 116, Eibar Coa
3. Copper State (IL), 115, Shaun Bridgmohan
4. Indian Blessing (KY), 116, John R. Velazquez
5. Spring Waltz (KY), 117, Javier Castellano
6. Stage Luck (KY), 114, Corey S. Nakatani
7. Tough Tiz's Sis (KY), 119, Edgar S. Prado
8. Boca Grande (KY), 115, Cornelio H. Velasquez
9. Miraculous Miss (KY), 115, Alan Garcia