04/22/2009 12:00AM

Baffert likens Indian Blessing to a Hall of Famer


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bob Baffert and Silverbulletday both were elected to the Racing Hall of Fame earlier this week. Ten years after winning the Kentucky Oaks with Silverbulletday, Baffert is back at Churchill Downs with a filly he said compares favorably.

"Indian Blessing is a lot like Silverbulletday," Baffert said shortly after Indian Blessing breezed five furlongs Wednesday morning at Churchill in a bullet 59.40 seconds. "She's an amazing animal."

Indian Blessing will be favored when she makes her next start on the May 2 Kentucky Derby undercard in the $300,000 Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong race that is living up to every bit of its Grade 1 rating. Among the other fillies and mares likely to run in the Humana Distaff are Informed Decision, Secret Gypsy, and Game Face.

Indian Blessing, already an earner of more than $2.8 million from just 13 lifetime starts, will be ridden by John Velazquez, who rode Informed Decision to win the Grade 1 Vinery Madison at Keeneland and Game Face to win the Grade 2 Inside Information at Gulfstream in their respective last starts.

Over the winter, Indian Blessing trained primarily over the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, but Baffert prefers to run her on dirt surfaces, where she has been particularly effective in compiling 7 wins and 3 seconds from 10 career starts. She most recently was second in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen.

"She seemed more confident on this dirt track," said exercise rider Joe Steiner, who was aboard Wednesday and previously has worked the filly in California. "She just towed me around there this morning. You couldn't ask for her to be doing any better."

Other riding assignments for the Humana Distaff include Julien Leparoux on Informed Decision, Robby Albarado on Secret Gypsy, and Garrett Gomez on Game Face.

Leparoux gets his Oaks mount

Leparoux has been confirmed by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to ride Justwhistledixie in the Kentucky Oaks next Friday. Justwhistledixie and her stablemate Fitz Just Right were vanned Wednesday from Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., to Churchill, where both were scheduled to have their final pre-Oaks workouts Friday morning with McLaughlin on hand.

Justwhistledixie, a winner of her last five starts, figures as a solid second choice to Rachel Alexandra in the Oaks, which is shaping up with one of its smallest field in years. The only other confirmed starters are Be Fair, Flying Spur, Gabby's Golden Gal, and Nan. Entries will be drawn Tuesday.

Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to have her final prerace work Monday.

With 25 victories to his credit heading into the final two programs (Thursday and Friday) at Keeneland, Leparoux rated a longshot's chance at tying or surpassing the spring-meet record of 32 wins, set in 1990 by Randy Romero.

From six Wednesday mounts, Leparoux rode one winner: Yes It's Barbara ($9.40) in the fifth. He was named to ride in eight races both Thursday and Friday.

Derby Trial starts meeting

Churchill begins its spring meet Saturday with the $100,000 Derby Trial, which is a Grade 3 race for the first time since 2004. Silver City, with Leparoux to ride, figures as the favorite in a field of eight 3-year-olds when he attempts to rebound from a sixth-place finish in the March 14 Rebel Stakes.

From the rail, this is the field for the 7 1/2-furlong Derby Trial: Silver City, Tintim Por Tintim, Gato Go Win, Checklist, Santana Six, Rendezvous, Hull, and Kensei.

As usual, racing at Churchill will be conducted on Tuesday of Derby week, essentially replacing the Sunday after the Derby, when the track is dark. Mondays and Tuesdays will be the usual dark days at a meet that runs through July 6.

* Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux will make Belmont Park and Saratoga his next two stops following the Derby, said his agent, Mike Sellitto.

"We really thought about staying at Churchill through the spring," said Sellitto. "We'll be back. We'll do what we did last fall, ride both the Keeneland and Churchill meets."

* Churchill has hired retired trainer T.V. Smith as a concierge at its newly renovated receiving barns, where he will provide assistance and hospitality to horsemen shipping in from other tracks and training centers. One of the last top horses trained by Smith was his only Derby starter, Offlee Wild, the 12th-place finisher in 2003.

* The long-awaited unveiling of the bronze Barbaro statue will take place Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern just outside of Gate 1 at Churchill. Among those expected on hand are Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the breeders and owners of Barbaro.

* Retired trainer Billy Ashabraner has written his memoirs in a book entitled, "Insights Into Racing." The book can be purchased through his website, .