John Velasquez, who offered no excuse for Indian Blessing’s defeat by Ventura in the Breeders’ Cup event at Santa Anita, will return from the East to handle trainer Bob Baffert’s daughter of Indian Charlie. She will carry co-high weight of 123 pounds in the 36th running of the seven-furlong event which Baffert has won a record five times.
While clearly the most accomplished of the La Brea entrants, Indian Blessing faces no simple task when completing her 3-year-old season. Her competition includes multiple Grade I winner Country Star, Ventura’s stablemate in Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s barn; Bsharpsonata, who recently scored a swift sprint victory for trainer Todd Pletcher in Hollywood Park’s Playa del Rey Stakes, and crack sprinter Indyanne, another daughter of Indian Charlie.
Trained by Greg Gilchrist for John Silkura, Indyanne may well emerge as the most dangerous rival for Indian Blessing while bearing a comparable 123 pounds under the elongated sprint conditions. Like Indian Blessing, Indyanne has never been worse than second while winning 5 of 7 starts and earning $449,870.
All of Indyanne’s races have been at six furlongs or less, and again like Indian Blessing, she has been favored in each. Indyanne’s Grade III stakes victories include the Azalea at Calder Racecourse and the TCA at Keeneland. Russell Baze will ride the Gilchrist speedster who is making her Santa Anita debut.
The complete field for the La Brea Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Country Star, Rafael Bejarano, 117; Laureldean Gale, Joseph Talamo, 115; Never Retreat, Michael Baze, 119; Indian Blessing, John Velazquez, 123; Foxy Danseur, Mike Smith, 119; Indyanne, Russell Baze, 123; Ginger Pop, Jose Valdivia Jr., 117; Accopela Choir, Alonso Quinonez, 117; She’s Cheeky, Alex Solis, 119, and Bsharpsonata, Garrett Gomez, 119.
The La Brea is the feature of a nine-race program that gets underway at 12:30 p.m. A troubled fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf following a convincing triumph in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies, Saucey Evening figures as a solid favorite among seven 2-year-old fillies in a supporting stakes event, the 29th running of the $125,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes at seven furlongs.
In the La Brea, Country Star, who wound up her 2-year-old season with successive Grade I victories, will be attempting to add another Grade I tally after losses earlier this year in Keeneland’s Grade I Ashland Stakes and the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
The Stonerside Stable homebred daughter of Empire Maker has raced just once since the Oaks in May, taking an optional claiming event on turf at Saratoga on Aug. 18. Rafael Bejarano, in search of a sixth straight riding title on Southern California’s racing circuit, will be in the irons for Frankel. Country Star has earned $638,865 from a 3-1-0 showing in six starts.
Frankel, who began Santa Anita’s 72nd season with a record 899 training victories at the track, has moved his premier West Coast runners to his Santa Anita base. The new Pro-Ride surface has gained a strong endorsement. “I think this is the best (synthetic) one I’ve seen,” Frankel said recently. Rather than the La Brea, Breeders’ Cup champion Ventura is being readied by Frankel for a return in the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap at seven furlongs on Jan. 31.
Bsharpsonata bested Country Star when second, a neck behind Little Belle, in the Ashland while the latter wound up fifth at even money. Including the Playa del Rey since being transferred to Pletcher’s care, the Pulpit filly has banked $532,010 for Cloverleaf Farms from 7 wins in 13 starts. Garrett Gomez, aboard for the first time in the recent Hollywood Park effort, has the return riding call.
Gomez, the nation’s leading rider with earnings in excess of $23 million, also rides Saucey Evening, who comes into the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes with earnings of $175,390 from 2 wins in 5 starts for Augustine Stable and trainer H. Graham Motion.
Although second to Saucey Evening in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles, Ten Churros may appreciate the cut back in distance to seven furlongs. A stablemate of Indian Blessing also owned by the Earnhardts, Ten Churros has earned $122,567 from a 2-1-1 record in six races. Velazquez will ride for the first time.
The complete field for the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Spanish Ice, David Flores, 115; Gold Goddess, Valdivia, 117; Saucey Evening, Gomez, 122; Stretchinthelimits, Bejarano, 119; Chalula One, Victor Espinoza, 117; Steam Iron, Solis, 115, and Ten Churros, Velazquez, 122.