Hal and Patti Earnhardt’s homebred Indian Blessing, who was scratched from the 1 1/16-mile Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) two weeks ago, returns to the racetrack as a sprinter and faces older horses for the first time. Last year’s champion juvenile filly will try for her fifth graded stakes victory of the season Sept. 20 when she takes on a short but talented field in the $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park.
Trainer Bob Baffert scratched Indian Blessing from the Ruffian in part because he has decided to concentrate running her only in shorter races. The 6 1/2-furlong Gallant Bloom fits the criteria for the 3-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie, who enters off grade I scores in the July 5 Prioress and Aug. 2 Darley Test, both of them sprints in which she earned Beyer Speed Figures of 110.
This is likely to be the final prep for Indian Blessing before she heads to California for the $1-million Sentient Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint Oct. 24 at Santa Anita.
“I saw the weather about three days (before the Ruffian) and just decided against running her,” said Baffert, who won the race anyway with stablemate Tough Tiz’s Sis. “We knew we had (the Gallant Bloom) coming up anyway.
“Facing older horses at this point in the year isn’t that big of a deal. All the races are important, but this is more just to set her up for the Breeders’ Cup. If the Breeders’ Cup was at Belmont this year we would probably take a shot in the boys sprint. But the synthetic surface at Santa Anita is a concern for everybody.”
Bred in Kentucky and out of the Flying Chevron mare Shameful, Indian Blessing is 7-2-0 from nine lifetime starts and has earned $1,997,200. She has won two of three starts at Belmont, where she also took the Frizette (gr. I) last year. Corey Nakatani was named to ride for the first time. Indian Blessing will carry co-high weight of 119 pounds.
Although Indian Blessing will face only four rivals, three of her challengers are talented older horses. The most notable is Stronach Stables’ homebred Sugar Swirl, a three-time graded stakes winner who has put together an excellent 4-year-old season. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Sugar Swirl reeled off three consecutive graded stakes victories to begin the year, the last one a dominating 5 1/2-length score in the seven-furlong Shirley Jones Handicap (gr. II) March 29 at Gulfstream Park.
After finishing fifth in the Humana Distaff (gr. I) on Kentucky Derby day, Sugar Swirl won in the restricted Scotzanna Stakes on the Woodbine Polytrack. Her most recent effort was a third-place finish in the Ballerina (gr. I) Aug. 24 at Saratoga. The daughter of Touch Gold is 10-3-5 from 22 lifetime starts and has won once in three tries at Belmont. Javier Castellano gets the call.
Godolphin Racing’s Zada Belle also presents an interesting challenge. The 4-year-old filly, also by Indian Charlie, has won two of her last three starts. The most recent one came in the restricted Bennington Stakes Aug. 20 at Saratoga. It was her first stakes score. Zada Belle is winless in two graded stakes tries in her career, the last one coming in the Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) when she finished second but was beaten nearly six lengths by Any Limit. Eibar Coa rides.
Peter Blum Racing’s Elope is the wild card in the Gallant Bloom. The 4-year-old Gone West filly has raced just twice in her career, winning both comfortably. She opened her career with a maiden special weight victory on the Turfway Park Polytrack last year when running for Eddie Kenneally, then was given more than 10 months off due to an ankle problem. The chestnut returned to the racetrack Aug. 3 at Saratoga for trainer Bruce Levine, romping to an 11 3/4-length score in allowance company while stopping the clock in 1:16.52 for 6 1/2 furlongs. It prompted Levine to send her into a graded stakes event.
“She doesn’t know who the competition is; she only knows it’s a race,” Levine said. “I think she deserves a chance. Her race at Saratoga was spectacular. I also look at who they run against, and Indian Blessing has only run against 3-year-olds.”
Ramon Dominguez was named to ride Elope.
Porte Bonheur, the other 3-year-old in the field, enters off a victory in the grade III Victory Ride Stakes Aug. 23 at Saratoga. She has won two in a row for trainer David Duggan.
$150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 5:19 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 6 1/2 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Indian Blessing (KY), 119, Corey S. Nakatani
2. Zada Belle (FL), 116, Eibar Coa
3. Porte Bonheur (KY), 114, Channing Hill
4. Sugar Swirl (ON), 119, Javier Castellano
5. Elope (KY), 113, Ramon A. Dominguez