10/23/2008 11:00PM

Surface the question for Indian Blessing


ARCADIA, Calif. - Indian Blessing is the first horse who can answer a question everyone is asking about the 2008 Breeders' Cup. What is that stuff they are racing on?

The Breeders' Cup starts Friday at Santa Anita, and instant analysis of the Pro-Ride surface will form in a minute and 21 seconds. That's about how long an outstanding field will need to run seven furlongs in the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, race 3.

"I'm not worried about the surface, because it's here," Indian Blessing's trainer, Bob Baffert, said. "We're just coping with it. You need a sound, fit horse."

To win a Breeders' Cup race you need a good horse, and Indian Blessing is all that. She has won 8 of 10, consistently earns Beyer Speed Figures in the 110 range, and enters as the fastest horse in a 14-horse field with seven Grade 1 or Group 1 winners.

Baffert is keyed up, and owners Patti and Hal Earnhardt may be, too.

"You get nervous when you have the best horse," Baffert said. "Getting beat would be more disappointing than the excitement of winning."

Indian Blessing is trying to become the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races. She won the 2007 Juvenile Fillies on a sloppy dirt track at Monmouth. The new artificial surface at Santa Anita provides a convenient alibi if she loses this year.

Brilliance on dirt does not automatically translate to brilliance on synthetic, and in her only previous synthetic start, Indian Blessing won by a desperate head at 1-10. That near-miss may be why so many are gunning for her, because based on speed figures she earns on dirt, Indian Blessing cannot lose.

John Velazquez will ride Indian Blessing, whose main rivals are any-surface-will-do Ventura and Intangaroo. Ventura won her first graded stakes on Polytrack and later a Grade 1 on turf. Three Grade 1 wins by Intangaroo include two on dirt, one on Cushion Track.

Zaftig, Dream Rush, Dearest Trickski, and Lady Sprinter are contenders in a race likely to unfold at a quick pace. One-dimensional runners Dream Rush and Dearest Trickski could duel early. Indyanne was also expected to be part of the pace from post 2, but she was scratched Thursday by trainer Greg Gilchrist because of an illness.

Though the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita plays fast, it plays relatively fairly. Question is, how fast will they go early? John Sadler, trainer of Dearest Trickski, wants to know: "Are they going to be aggressive going seven furlongs?"

Because Dearest Trickski drew outside her pace rivals in post 9, she and jockey Mike Smith have a better chance of carrying the speed than Dream Rush (post 7).

A fast pace could set it up for closer Intangaroo. She has been favored just once in her career, and trainer Gary Sherlock predicted her odds: "As little respect as she gets, she is liable to be 20-1."

As for Ventura, the Breeders' Cup has been in her sights for a year. She raced six times with modest success in Europe and was to be sold last fall. But after she beat a good field of males in a listed stakes on Polytrack at Kempton, owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms kept her and sent her to Bobby Frankel in California.

"When they send horses over, they don't give you the hype," Frankel said. "They don't tell you how great they are. A lot of people send you horses with so much hype that if you don't win a Grade 1, you feel like you've disappointed them, you know?"

That is not the Juddmonte style.

"They just send them over," said Frankel, "and whatever it is . . . where the chips may fall."

Ventura made an auspicious U.S. debut in a third-level allowance on the Santa Anita turf, winning by two lengths.

"She looked like she could have won by 10 she did it so easy" Frankel said. "I thought I had a really nice filly."

She followed up by winning the Grade 2 Madison at seven furlongs on Polytrack at Keeneland, and later the Grade 1 Just a Game at a mile on turf at Belmont. She recently returned from two-month freshening by finishing second against males in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on grass.

Frankel could have entered her in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but ultimately her Polytrack win at Keeneland swayed him.

"I'm hoping she runs like she did at Keeneland," Frankel said. "She could get the whole day started."