Undefeated Indian Blessing cleared her first hurdle of 2008, but last year's Grey Goose Vodka Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner unexpectedly had to outlast the strongest challenge of her brief career in the $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Jan. 13.
Indian Blessing, the 1-10 favorite, held on to win by a head over Golden Doc A in the seven-furlong test for 3-year-old fillies. Patti and Hal Earnhardt's homebred daughter of Indian Charlie set blistering fractions but tired a bit in the final furlong, winning under urging by jockey Garrett Gomez. The likely 2007 Eclipse Award winner set a Cushion Track record of 1:19.89 for seven furlongs on Santa Anita's blazing main track.
Trainer Bob Baffert, celebrating his 55th birthday, was relieved to get the first start of the year out of the way.
"The easy ones are always the hardest ones to win, when you're 1-9," Baffert said. "But she ran her heart out today. When I saw the fractions, I thought it would be tough (to hold one). She came back tired. But it was good. All she does is win."
Indian Blessing, shouldering co-top weight of 123 pounds, had just four rivals to beat in the Santa Ynez after a pair of scratches. She broke with the leaders and soon established a half-length lead while covering the opening quarter-mile in :22 1/5. With the outsider Peisinoe hanging close, Indian Blessing completed the half-mile in a blazing :43 3/5, before edging away on the turn. She led by four lengths at the head of the stretch but came under pressure as Golden Doc A and jockey Rafael Bejarano closed relentlessly in the center of the track.
Indian Blessing ran six furlongs in 1:07.
“She was a little fresh today," Gomez said. "(Peisinoe) put quite a bit more pressure on us than I expected, and I wasn’t able to get her to settle like I wanted. I knew with the pressure we got (that) somebody might be coming at us and, at the sixteenth pole. I could feel (Golden Doc A) coming. At that point, I had to get after her a little bit.”
The Kentucky-bred dark bay, out of the Flying Chevron mare Shameful, earned her fourth successive win. Her previous three had come by a combined margin of 13 1/4 lengths. Indian Blessing was making her first start since taking the BC Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) by 3 1/2 lengths Oct. 27 on a sloppy track at Monmouth Park. She also won Belmont Park's Frizette (gr. I) by 4 1/2 lengths. She increased her lifetime earnings to $1,447,200.
"This filly has just been a blessing, just like her name," Hal Earnhardt said.
Baffert said he was undecided on the next step for Indian Blessing. "She ran pretty hard today, so I’ll let her dictate where she wants to run next, but we’re not in a hurry with her.”
She paid $2.20, $2.10, and $2.10. Golden Doc A, who also carried 123 pounds, returned $4.40 and $2.80. Peisinoe, unbeaten in her two prior starts for trainer Paddy Gallagher, was $3 to show with Alex Solis aboard.
Champagne Eyes finished fourth, and Izarra trailed after giving way in the stretch.