Thursday, September 18, 2008
CAN ELOPE RUN OFF WITH GALLANT BLOOM?
There’s not much to glean from the past performances of Peter Blum’s four-year-old filly, Elope – she’s only run twice in her life, and only once this year. But her 11 ¾-length victory at Saratoga Race Course on August 3 was enough to convince trainer Bruce Levine that Elope rates a shot at champion Indian Blessing in Saturday’s 15th running of the Grade 2, $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont Park.
“She doesn’t know who the competition is; she only knows it’s a race,” said Levine of Elope, who broke her maiden last September at Turfway Park for trainer Eddie Kenneally over an all-weather track in her only other start. “I think she deserves a chance. Her race at Saratoga was spectacular.”
Since then, the homebred daughter of Gone West has been working steadily, including a head-turning move on Monday when she breezed five furlongs in 1:00.10, the third fastest of 22 at the distance.
“She’s trained like a really nice horse,” said Levine of Elope, who was sent to Blum’s farm following her maiden win with an ankle problem, and came to Belmont Park in June. “And winning the way she did coming off a 10-month layoff, I look for her to move forward off that.”
Moving forward is one thing; moving forward against a champion filly, even with a six-pound break in the weights, is another.
Indian Blessing, who was scratched from the Grade 1, nine-furlong Ruffian last week after owner Hal Earnhardt and trainer Bob Baffert elected to keep the three-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie sprinting, enters the Gallant Bloom off two consecutive Grade 1 victories in the Test and the Prioress, both of which earned her Beyer speed figures of 110.
“I think the 110 scares people off, but I don’t believe in them that much,” said Levine. “I also look at who they run against, and Indian Blessing has only run against three-year-olds.”
In the Gallant Bloom, Indian Blessing will be facing two more older fillies – Stronach Stables’ Sugar Swirl and Godolphin Stable’s Zada Belle – in addition to three-year-old Porte Bonheur, winner of the Grade 3 Victory Ride at Saratoga on August 23, her second straight win.
The five-year-old Sugar Swirl, a multiple graded-stakes winner who was third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Ballerina in her first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, comes into the Gallant Bloom with a record of four victories in six starts this year. At Belmont Park, the daughter of Touch Gold has one victory and one third-place finish from two starts, including a neck victory over Veneti in the restricted Alyssum Stakes last July.
Zada Belle, a lightly-raced daughter of Indian Charlie who has four wins in six starts, was second to Any Limit in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss at Saratoga Race Course on August 1, and returned later in the month to score a front-running 4 ½-length win in an overnight stakes.
It is Indian Blessing, who is being pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 in the hopes of garnering another Eclipse award, who appears the standout in the short field.
Bringing with her a record of seven wins and two second-place finishes in nine starts, Indian Blessing also has been training exceptionally well for her first start since the August 2 Test. On September 8, she drilled five furlongs in :58, handily, the fastest of 34 works at the distance, and came back on September 14 with another bullet move, breezing five furlongs in :59.10.
“She hasn’t missed a beat since the Test,” said Tonja Terranova, who oversees trainer Bob Baffert’s New York horses. “She’s doing great and she’s looks amazing. She’s at the top of her game, and this is a perfect race as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup.”
With John Velazquez out of town, Corey Nakatani will have the mount on Indian Blessing, who drew post No. 1 and who will carry co-high weight with Sugar Swirl of 119 pounds.
Also on Saturday, the third race will be the $75,000-added Missile Belle for three-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. The aforementioned Overandabeauty will break from the outside post 7 in this event.
The field for the Grade 2, $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap:
PP Horse Jockey Wgt. Trainer
1 Indian Blessing Corey Nakatani 119 Bob Baffert
2 Zada Belle Eibar Coa 116 Saeed bin Suroor
3 Porte Bonheur Channing Hill 114 David Duggan
4 Sugar Swirl Javier Castellano 119 Bobby Frankel
5 Elope Ramon Dominguez 113 Bruce Levine
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