This time last year, Indian Blessing was the front-runner in the female sprint division and on her way to a year-end Eclipse Award. Now, the Indian Charlie filly will have to take the division's leadership role from Informed Decision, who has won five straight stakes and enters the $300,000 Ballerina (gr. I) as the one to beat.
Indian Blessing and Informed Decision will have their showdown against four other fillies Aug. 29 at Saratoga in the seven-furlong Ballerina, one of three grade I races on a card that is highlighted by the $1-million Shadwell Travers (gr. I). ESPN will show all three of those races live, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Scheduled post time for the Ballerina is 4:38 p.m.
Hal and Patti Earnhardt’s Indian Blessing has raced just twice this season, beginning with a runner-up finish against males in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) March 29 at Nad al Sheba. After returning home, the 4-year-old was given two and half months off by trainer Bob Baffert before a disappointing fourth-place effort in the June 14 Desert Stormer Handicap on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track surface. It was the first time the filly had finished off the board in 14 lifetime starts.
The connections of Indian Blessing are hoping a return trip to Saratoga, the site of her seven-length Test (gr. I) romp last summer and easy maiden score back in 2007, will help get her back on track. The homebred has worked three times at the Spa this month, including a bullet five-furlong moveAug. 13 in :58.95.
"Certain horses just can’t get over the synthetic and she was fighting with it,” said Baffert. "I should have sent her back to New York earlier in the year. This is an important race for her and it’s not easy, but she looks good and I hope we see the real Indian Blessing on Saturday."
An earner of more than $2.8 million, Indian Blessing is out of the Flying Chevron mare Shameful. John Velazquez has been named to ride on Indian Blessing, who was installed as the somewhat surprising 8-5 morning-line choice
Indian Blessing will have to be at her best to take down Augustin Stable’s Informed Decision, the 4-year-old daughter of Monarchos—Palangana, by His Majesty, who is undefeated in three starts this season, including grade I wins in the Madison on Keeneland’s Polytrack and Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs. Most recently, the gray/roan filly scored by nearly five lengths in the Chicago Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park.
Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Informed Decision finished third in her lone start at Saratoga, that coming last summer in the Victory Ride (gr. III). It was one of only two defeats in her 10-start career.
But Informed Decision is clearly a different filly now, and also in her favor is that all of her victories during her current five-race win streak have come at the Ballerina’s seven-furlong distance. Julien Leparoux will be in the irons on the 2-1 second choice.
"She’s been a pleasant surprise,” said Sheppard. "Many of our better horses seem to be turf horses and this one is dirt. She’s pretty aggressive and even though she runs well on conventional dirt, she particularly seems to like the synthetic. (And) our horse has speed. She went to the front at Arlington Park the last time because there wasn’t very much speed in that race, so she can go wherever the jockey wants to be, really."
Another major contender in the Ballerina is Godolphin's Music Note, last year’s third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) who makes just her second start of the season. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Music Note finished fifth in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) in her lone start of 2009.
"We had to back off on her (after the Ogden Phipps because) she had some stiffness in her hind end,” said Rick Mettee, North American racing manager for Godolphin and assistant to trainer bin Suroor. "At seven furlongs, even though she’s against a star-studded field, she only has to run the last quarter of a mile. We feel we have a filly going the right way.
"We (think this race will) set her up for the Belmont fall meet, whether it would be the Ruffian or Beldame, and give us an idea of where we are with her."
Trainer Doug O’Neill will send out Modification for J. Paul Reddam and Mark Schlesinger. The Vindication filly won her first start of 2009 in allowance company and finished in a dead heat for third in the Humana Distaff. In five other graded starts this year, she has finished off the board.
Completing the field is Alex Rankin’s Tar Heel Mom, who takes a big step up in class for trainer Stanley Hough, venturing into graded stakes company for only the second time in her career, and P. S. U. Grad, also trained by Baffert
$300,000 Ballerina (gr. I, Race 10, 4:38 p.m.), Filies and Mares 3YO and Up, Seven Furlongs, (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Music Note (KY), R Maragh, 121, S bin Suroor
2. Informed Decision (KY), J R Leparoux, 122, J E Sheppard
3. Tar Heel Mom (KY), A Garcia, 115, S M Hough
4. Indian Blessing (KY), J R Velazquez, 119, B Baffert
5. Modification (KY), R A Dominguez, 115, D F O'Neill
6. P. S. U. Grad (KY), K J Desormeaux, 115, B Baffert