02/07/2008 12:00AM

Proud Spell can upset Indian Blessing

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NEW YORK - There are big stakes doings on tap Saturday at both Santa Anita and Fair Grounds. The Grade 1 Las Virgenes and Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap, as well as the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap rescheduled from last Sunday, head the card at Santa Anita. At Fair Grounds, the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes tops a card that includes five other stakes.

Silverbulletday Stakes

This is one of three other Grade 3 stakes on the Fair Grounds program, and it marks the second start of the year for the undefeated Indian Blessing, last year's champion 2-year-old filly. I learned a long time ago never to underestimate a champion, but Indian Blessing looks vulnerable on Saturday at odds that figure to be less than even money.

Even though Indian Blessing won all of her starts last year by daylight margins and was a thoroughly deserving Eclipse Award winner, she did raise some questions when she came home very slowly in the Frizette and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. And this issue did not disappear in her seasonal bow in last month's Santa Ynez Stakes, even at a seven-furlong distance that figured to be more favorable for her. Indian Blessing nearly blew a midstretch lead of three lengths to the unheralded Golden Doc A, requiring 12.75 seconds to complete the last furlong, which was extremely slow considering the Cushion Track surface that day was one of the fastest racing surfaces in the history of the game. Running back in just three weeks after a gut-wrenching effort like that off a layoff suggests Indian Blessing might be in for a regression in form, especially since she is stretching out in distance.

Proud Spell is the obvious alternative. Although Proud Spell could not catch Indian Blessing at this distance last fall in the Breeders' Cup, Indian Blessing did shake loose on a sloppy track, and Proud Spell ran on gamely to be a gaining second. Proud Spell won all three of her starts before that, and showed the kind of stalking style that could be right for this race. And while Proud Spell is coming off a layoff, her trainer, Larry Jones, has good numbers with layoff horses.

Likely Exchange Stakes

This feature at Turfway is intriguing because you don't often see credible Southern California shippers at Turfway this time of year. Yet that is what Fun Logic is, and it ensures she will take a lot of money in this spot. Fun Logic does have some back races that would crush this field, but mediocre Beyer Speed Figures in her last four starts suggest she isn't in her best form, and will have to do more to win than just throw her Hollywood tan on the track.

I like Our Dancing Babe. She is taking a bit of a class drop herself, having run in turf stakes at Fair Grounds in her last two starts, and she was an unlucky and narrowly beaten second in one of them. She now returns to the surface on which she has been most successful and is from a barn that has been virtually unstoppable this Turfway meet.

Essex Handicap

Jonesboro, who romped in this race last year, is rarely outrun for the early lead in route races. But if he is sent early, Spotsgone has the speed to make Jonesboro's life miserable during the early stages, and reduce his chances of winning. The big question is, will Spotsgone be sent? I think he will, for two reasons: He is unlikely to win rating, especially going long. And if he is sent, it would greatly aid his stretch-running barnmate Prom Shoes, who is my play.

Prom Shoes ran the best race of his life Beyer-wise most recently off a two-month layoff - a second in the Louisiana Handicap. He doesn't have to be nearly as far back early this time, and a sharp recent workout suggests he retains his sharp form.