Just three days after being voted a 2008 Eclipse Award as outstanding female sprinter, Indian Blessing was a surprise entrant in the Santa Monica by her trainer, Bob Baffert, who had won two of the three previous runnings. Baffert hedged somewhat, however, when he said, “I entered, but I don’t know yet if she’ll run. I’m just going to see how the race shapes up.”
As the 5-2 second-choice, Ventura dusted 9-5 favorite Indian Blessing by four lengths in Oak Tree’s Oct. 24 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint while running seven furlongs over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface in a blistering 1:19.90. The Santa Monica stakes record is 1:20 3/5.
The setback notwithstanding, Indian Blessing proceeded to win Santa Anita’s Grade I La Brea Stakes over the Pro-Ride footing on Dec. 27 for her sixth graded stakes victory of the year. Hal and Patti Earnhardt’s homebred Indian Charlie filly wound up with 138 votes in the Eclipse Award voting for champion female sprinter compared to 88 for runner-up Ventura.
It was the week of the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita that provided legs for the rivalry between the pair of rising stars. “Bobby Frankel was right,” Baffert said following the Filly & Mare Sprint. “He was telling me all week that he was going to get me, and he did.”
John Velasquez, who rides Indian Blessing, said his mount “came running,” adding, “That horse (Ventura) still ran right by me. I couldn’t believe it. I was running, too. We ran our race today. She (Ventura) just ran a little better.” Commented Baffert, “She (Indian Blessing) did all she could, but the winner just ran a tremendous race, almost a track record.”
Ventura, with regular rider Garrett Gomez aboard, will carry high weight of 123 pounds among eight entrants in Saturday’s Santa Monica. Indian Blessing was assigned 122. In the Breeders’ Cup race, Ventura also carried 123, compared to Indian Blessing’s 120.
Ventura has been effective over any kind of surface while compiling a lifetime record of 7-5-1 in 15 starts for earnings of $1,359,470. The Kentucky-bred began her career with eight races in England before being shipped to the United States early last year. Her victories in the U.S. include Keeneland’s Grade II Madison Stakes over Polytrack and the Grade I Just A Gleam on grass at Belmont Park. She has won 3 of 4 starts over synthetics.
Indian Blessing has been a paragon of consistency with nine victories and three seconds in 12 lifetime starts for earnings of $2,437,200. Her record over synthetics is 2-1-0 in three starts that include the Breeders’ Cup. In addition to the La Brea at Santa Anita, Indian Blessing took last January’s Grade II Santa Ynez Handicap.
Frankel and Baffert each have another entrant in the Santa Monica. Frankel sends out Juddmonte stablemate Jibboom, winner of the Grade II Raven Run Stakes at seven furlongs in 2007 over Keeneland Polytrack surface. The 5-year-old gray mare has banked $337,600 from a 4-3-0 record in nine races. Rafael Bejarano has been named to ride.
Baffert’s other entrant is Tizzy’s Tune, a 6-year-old daughter of Tiznow whose only stakes victory was gained in Oak Tree’s Pine Tree Lane Stakes last September. She placed fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, 2 ½ lengths behind Indian Blessing. Joel Rosario rides the Kentucky-bred who has earned $221,353 for Arnold Zetcher from a 4-5-2 record in 16 starts.
The complete field for the Santa Monica Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Tizzy’s Tune, Joel Rosario, 114; So Long Sonoma, Mike Smith, 112; She’s Cheeky, Alex Solis, 113; Indian Blessing, John Velazquez, 122; Wake Up Maggie, Tyler Baze, 115; Jibboom, Rafael Bejarano, 115; Ventura, Garrett Gomez, 123, and Baroness Thatcher, Joseph Talamo, 115.
The Santa Monica is supported by the fifth running of the $70,000 Wishing Well Handicap for fillies and mares at 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. Ten were entered in the race named for the dam of 1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence. Sharp Susan, the 118-pound high weight, will be making her West Coast debut for trainer Bill Mott. Gomez rides the 5-year-old Touch Gold mare owned by IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm. She has posted a career record of 6-2-2 in 20 starts for earnings of $477,926.
The complete field for the Wishing Well Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Bahama Mama, David Flores, 117; Sharp Susan, Gomez, 118; Highland Torree, Agapito Delgadillo, 112; Everlasting Beauty, Corey Nakatani, 113; Shermeen, Rosario, 114; Dawn After Dawn, Bejarano, 117; Porto Marmay, no rider, 115; Christiana’s Heat, Michael Baze, 115; Moonshine Alice, Chantal Sutherland, 114, and Society Hostess, Jose Valdivia Jr., 117.
The Santa Monica is scheduled as the seventh race on a nine-race program with the Wishing Well to follow as the eighth. First post is at 12:30 p.m.