09/30/2008 11:00PM

Surface complicates Indian Blessing's bid

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Indian Blessing came home this week to a place she has never been.

Oh sure, Santa Anita remains the base for Indian Blessing's trainer, Bob Baffert. And it is the same place where Indian Blessing began training in spring 2007. Back then, the racing surface was dirt. Since then, much has changed.

Indian Blessing is pure speed, almost always an attribute on dirt. But the California surfaces now are all-synthetic.

"Synthetics will snatch the brilliance away from you," Baffert said. "Synthetics keep [races] close; I like when she separates from them."

The comment was not intended to be critical. Baffert was merely explaining why Indian Blessing has raced only once in California while nine times on the, ahem, dirt road. It has worked - eight wins from 10 starts including the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

"Certain horses are machines," Baffert said. "Silverbulletday was a machine, Chilukki was a machine. Indian Blessing . . . she is just a machine."

Baffert and owners Hal and Patti Earnhardt will learn Oct. 24 if she is as automatic on Pro-Ride at Santa Anita as she is on dirt at Belmont and Saratoga. Three daylight wins in New York, where she was stabled since June, established Indian Blessing as the favorite for the seven-furlong, $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

"If this was Belmont, I would probably be leaning toward running her in the Sprint with the boys, but not here" at Santa Anita, Baffert said Tuesday. "I don't know how this track is going to play. There would have to be major defections from the Sprint. Right now, if I was betting in Vegas, I'd say Filly and Mare Sprint."

Synthetic surfaces were always part of Indian Blessing's story, even before her debut. The first race she entered was a Polytrack maiden race at Del Mar on Aug. 19, 2007.

"Horses with natural speed were dying, and I didn't feel comfortable running her at Del Mar, so I scratched her and sent her to Saratoga," Baffert said.

Indian Blessing romped at Saratoga, stayed in New York to win the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont, and went to New Jersey to capture the BC Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth, clinching the Eclipse Award.

But her 2008 campaign was always in flux. A Jan. 13 comeback in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Santa Ynez at Santa Anita remains her only synthetic-surface start. She won that Cushion Track race by a diminishing head at 1-10 after a wicked pace.

Did the footing almost get her beat? No, it was distance. Seven furlongs would turn out to be Indian Blessing's limit on any footing. Following the Santa Ynez, she lost 2 of 3 at longer distances, and when she got drubbed June 7 in the Grade 1 Acorn mile at Belmont, Baffert had seen enough.

"The stretch-outs were taking their toll on her, it was too far, so I decided to quit stretching her out, and shorten her up," he said.

Indian Blessing remained in New York with John and Tonja Terranova, backed up to six furlongs for the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont Park on July 5, and for the first time in her career, she was outrun early.

"They out-footed her away from there," Baffert said. "So [jockey John Velazquez] grabbed her, took her to the outside, and she ran a tremendous race. Shortening up, you can rate them a little bit because they're going so fast."

She won by more than five lengths, with a 110 Beyer Figure.

Indian Blessing followed the Prioress with blowouts in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Test and in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom at 6 1/2 furlongs, her first start against older fillies and mares, on Sept. 20 at Belmont.

Now she has come full circle. Indian Blessing returned Tuesday to Santa Anita, where she will train up the Breeders' Cup.

"I thought about leaving her at Belmont and flying her in [late], but I wanted to get her here and let her relax," Baffert said. "With the synthetic, I just want to keep her happy. She's at a point where I don't have to do a lot with her. She's fit. She's at the peak of her game."

Is she good enough to win the Filly and Mare Sprint in the first Breeders' Cup to be run on synthetic?

"She reminds me of Silverbulletday, but at the short game," Baffert said, comparing Indian Blessing to the champion filly that won 15 races and more than $3 million.

"Those are two great fillies that just keep coming."