01/26/2007 1:00AM

Fleet Indian's stellar run a surprise

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The last thing Paul Saylor thought he was getting when he purchased Fleet Indian at auction last January was a replacement for Ashado.

For three years, Ashado gave Saylor and his partners a magical run of Grade 1 success that included a Breeders' Cup Distaff victory in 2004 at Lone Star Park and a subsequent Eclipse Award as the nation's top 3-year-old filly. Ashado would retire with $3.9 million in earnings and then be sold for a whopping $9 million at auction following her 4-year-old season, in which she earned a second Eclipse Award, this time as champion older female.

No, what Saylor thought he was getting when he plunked down $290,000 to buy Fleet Indian out of the January horses of all ages sale at Keeneland was a nice New York-bred mare who would eventually be a good mate for Purge, a Grade 1-winning stallion whom Saylor owned in partnership.

What Saylor got instead was another magical run of graded stakes success that culminated with another Eclipse Award. By virtue of six victories in seven starts - including Grade 1 wins in the Personal Ensign and Beldame - Fleet Indian easily captured the Eclipse Award for champion older female horse of 2006. Fleet Indian, a daughter of Indian Charlie out of the mare Hustleeta, received 213 votes, compared with 48 for BC Distaff winner Round Pond and 4 for Spinster winner Asi Siempre, the other two finalists in the category.

"I never would have envisioned having another good horse, male or female, anywhere close to Ashado," Saylor said a few weeks before the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Fleet Indian's year and her career ended at Churchill Downs when she suffered a suspensory injury during the running of the Distaff. She was vanned off the track and would later undergo surgery to fuse her fetlock in her left foreleg. In accepting the Eclipse Award on Monday night at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel, Saylor reported that Fleet Indian was being hand-walked and would soon be turned out in a paddock. Within the month, she will be bred to Storm Cat.

Fleet Indian, trained by Todd Pletcher, began her 5-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap at Aqueduct in March. She had her coming-out party in the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne, where she rolled to a 12 1/2-length victory. Her speed figures were so impressive that Pletcher attempted to buy Fleet Indian from Saylor.

"Having him that impressed over that performance was a validation over how well she ran," Saylor said. "I started thinking bigger thoughts."

In June, Fleet Indian won the Obeah Handicap at Delaware Park, then rolled to a 5 1/2-length score in the $1 million Delaware Handicap. It was her fourth win in as many starts for Saylor and her sixth consecutive victory overall.

In August, Fleet Indian turned the Personal Ensign into a virtual walkover as she was allowed to set pedestrian fractions on the lead en route to a 4 1/4-length victory over Balletto.

Fleet Indian passed her biggest test in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont, where she proved that she could win from off the pace, overcoming a slow start and then holding off Balletto by a head.

She was sent off the 5-2 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race that had 13 Grade 1 winners in a 14-horse field. But Jose Santos felt something amiss down the backstretch and began to pull up Fleet Indian before the half-mile pole.

Saylor invited Santos to the Eclipse Awards and lauded his horsemanship for being able to keep Fleet Indian from further injuring herself.

"Jose's heroics on Breeders' Cup Day probably saved Fleet Indian's life, definitely saved her value; for that I'll be eternally grateful," Saylor said.

Fleet Indian, who began her career in the barn of trainer Jimmy Toner, finished her career with 13 wins from 19 starts and career earnings of $1,704,513.

o VOTING: Fleet Indian, 213; Round Pond, 48; Asi Siempre, 4; Gorella (FR) 2; Ouija Board (GB), 2; Pool Land, 1; Spun Sugar, 1. No abstentions.