10/15/2008 11:00PM

Distance, surface raise questions for Indian Blessing

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On a conventional dirt racetrack or a distance shorter than seven furlongs, Indian Blessing would be an unqualified standout in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

"It's not a cinch," her trainer Bob Baffert warned.

How could it be? A surprisingly large field of 15 pre-entered the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint (14 can start), and aside from sheer field size, Indian Blessing is challenged by distance and footing.

"I wish it was six and a half; seven-eighths is not a sprint, it's a mile," Baffert said. "But she's doing great and feels great. The only thing that can beat her is the surface, and we have no control over that."

Indian Blessing, 8 for 10, won the BC Juvenile Fillies one year ago, racing 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track at Monmouth. After distance limitations became evident this spring, Baffert and owners Hal and Patti Earnhardt turned her into a sprinter. A darn good one, it turns out.

Indian Blessing won her last three dirt sprints in New York, but on a synthetic surface her form is uncertain. In her only start on an artificial surface, at Santa Anita in January, Indian Blessing engaged in a pace battle and won by only a head at 1-10. Indian Blessing cannot win the Filly and Mare Sprint if she duels early in a race loaded with speed.

"That's why there are so many horses in there, they figure she'll get caught up in it," Baffert said.

It will be up to jockey John Velazquez to ration Indian Blessing's speed behind need-the-lead front-runners Indyanne, Dream Rush, and Dearest Trickski.

Ventura and Intangaroo would benefit from a pace meltdown. Both have won graded stakes on synthetic, both enter in top form, and both have closing styles possibly suited to the pace.

The field of pre-entries includes two imports who would be making their respective U.S. debuts. Lady Sprinter won 8 of 9 in Argentina, but has never raced beyond five furlongs; Psalm won a Group 3 by eight lengths last out in Ireland, but has never raced on anything but grass. It was reported in England that trainer Aidan O'Brien said Psalm may not run in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Zaftig won the Grade 1 Acorn in her most recent start June 7 and will enter off a 139-day layoff.

Jazzy is relegated to also-eligible status, but she will get into the field if Psalm or one of the others defects.

* Dearest Trickski worked six furlongs in 1:12 on Thursday at Hollywood Park, the fastest of 10 works at the distance.