12/26/2008 1:00AM

Chance to solidify Eclipse credentials

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Barbara D. Livingston
Indian Blessing is a serious contender for champion 3-year-old filly and champion female sprinter.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The Eclipse Award ballots were sent out at the beginning of the month, and, in truth, most voters usually send them right back in, ignoring the final month of the season. But there are five Grade 1 races run in December, races that in many years could very well decide close divisions for those who vote based on 52 weeks rather than 48.

The final Grade 1 race of 2008, the $250,000 La Brea Stakes, will be run on Saturday at Santa Anita, and for those who have waited, they will have one more chance to evaluate the entire calendar year form of Indian Blessing. She was the champion filly at age 2 in 2007, and must be considered a leading candidate this year for both champion 3-year-old filly and, more realistically, champion female sprinter.

Indian Blessing finished second to Ventura two months ago in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, but a victory on Saturday would give her three Grade 1 wins this year around one turn. Her assignment will not be easy, though. Even with Ventura not eligible to the La Brea, since it is restricted to 3-year-old fillies, Indian Blessing still will have to turn back the tag team challenges of the speedy Indyanne and the late-running Bsharpsonata in order to prevail over a demanding seven furlongs on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

Bob Baffert, who trains Indian Blessing, said he is not concerned whether the La Brea will weigh heavily, or at all, on his filly's chances of winning another Eclipse Award.

"If you worry about that," he said Tuesday morning, "people would just put their horses away. We enjoy running, and she's doing well. That's why she's running."

Indian Blessing was unbeaten at age 2, when she won the BC Juvenile Fillies, and she has continued her excellence this year. In 8 starts, she has 5 wins and 3 second-place finishes.

Baffert said he has two main concerns on Saturday - the distance and the surface.

"She ran a good race in the Breeders' Cup, but the synthetic is not her favorite track," he said. "I think she's probably four lengths better on conventional dirt."

Following the La Brea, according to Baffert, Indian Blessing will be pointed to the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen, in which she will face males. And he said his main goal for her in 2009 will be the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Not the Filly and Mare Sprint, at seven furlongs, but the six-furlong Sprint, against males.

"I would have run her in the Breeders' Cup Sprint this year if we didn't have Midnight Lute," Baffert said.

A surprisingly large field of 10 entered the La Brea, including Bsharpsonata and Indyanne, both multiple graded-stakes winners.

Bsharpsonata returned from a 6 1/2-month layoff last month and rallied to win the Playa Del Rey Stakes at Hollywood Park in her first start for trainer Todd Pletcher.

"This race has been on the books since she got out here," said Michael McCarthy, Pletcher's West Coast-based assistant. "Hopefully she'll get the same type of trip she did last time. That would be a nice, belated Christmas gift."

Indyanne, like Indian Blessing, never has finished worse than second, and her wicked early speed makes her the one to catch. Indyanne comes off a second-place finish against males in the Sausalito Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, which ended up being her prep for the La Brea after she was withdrawn from the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.

"We hadn't been there a day for the Breeders' Cup when she got a slight temperature, and along with that she wasn't eating, and she had a slight cough, too," her trainer, Greg Gilchrist, said Tuesday from Golden Gate Fields.

Gilchrist took Indyanne back to his base at Golden Gate, and used the Sausalito as a means to an end.

"Our goal was to get to the La Brea," Gilchrist said. "Missing the Breeders' Cup, we had to look for some race in between. That race was the only thing that was reasonable, and it was here. It wasn't ideal, and she had missed a week after getting sick, but we had to go with what was offered."

The La Brea will be Indyanne's first attempt beyond six furlongs.

"Seven-eighths is the question we have to ask," Gilchrist said.

Country Star, a two-time winner on synthetic tracks, is a dangerous late threat.