09/05/2008 11:00PM

Timing right for Indian Blessing

Barbara D. Livingston
Indian Blessing, winner of Grade 1 sprints in her two most recent starts, stretches out to 1 1/16 miles for Saturday's Grade 1 Ruffian.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Timing and prestige more than distance is why Indian Blessing is running in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park.

Coming off two smashing Grade 1 sprint victories, Indian Blessing is setting herself up as the horse to beat in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Oct. 24. In scouring the calendar for races to get to the Breeders' Cup, trainer Bob Baffert landed on the Ruffian, run around one turn at 1 1/16 miles.

The Ruffian, where Indian Blessing will face her elders for the first time, is five weeks removed from her seven-length romp in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga. It will also give Indian Blessing 48 days to the Breeders' Cup.

Baffert said he is not necessarily trying to get Indian Blessing - last year's 2-year-old filly champion - a divisional championship. However, were she to win the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, Indian Blessing could become champion female sprinter.

Indian Blessing has run well at 1 1/16 miles in the past. She won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at that distance last October and took the Silverbulletday at that distance in February. Both of those wins were recorded in front-running fashion. The Breeders' Cup win was accomplished in the slop, conditions that could be prevalent Saturday should remnants from Tropical Storm Hanna arrive as forecasted.

"She loves off tracks," Baffert said.

Indian Blessing has demonstrated the ability to sit off another horse or two in her two Grade 1 sprint victories, but may find herself too quick for these early on going longer.

"They were sprinting, that's what makes it easier for her to relax," said John Velazquez, aboard for both the Prioress and Test wins. "I never rode her going long; I think she's pretty strong going long watching her. It all depends on post positions. If you get a post position where you can sit quietly with her and you can rate just a little bit in the middle of the track and give her a little chance, I think that's easier. Once you get committed to being on the inside of somebody, she's going to go."

Indian Blessing drew post 4, and the other speed horses, Little Belle and Rite Moment, are drawn in the first two posts. If Indian Blessing or Little Belle were to win the Ruffian, they would become the 11th 3-year-old to win this race, which was first contested in 1976.

Baffert also is running the 4-year-old Tough Tiz's Sis in the Ruffian. Tough Tiz's Sis is coming off two losses to distaff division leader Zenyatta. Tough Tiz's Sis won a stakes in March over the dirt course at Sunland Park. Last fall, she finished third in the Grade 1 Gazelle at Belmont. She is 0 for 3 on wet tracks.

"Tough Tiz's Sis, she always shows up, she always runs hard, she's solid," said Baffert, who also liked the timing of this race for Tough Tiz's Sis, who will be pointed to the BC Ladies Classic.

With defending Eclipse Award winner Ginger Punch awaiting the Beldame on Sept. 27, trainer Bobby Frankel and owner Frank Stronach will send out Spring Waltz in the Ruffian. Spring Waltz won three consecutive dirt races during the winter when conditioned by Bryan Lynch. In her first start for Frankel, Spring Waltz finished fourth to Hystericalady in the Delaware Handicap on July 13.

Frankel said Spring Waltz probably wasn't ready to run 1 1/4 miles that day, and he expects his 5-year-old mare to improve. However, he wasn't counting on Indian Blessing showing up.

"I don't know if we can beat Indian Blessing no matter how good she runs," Frankel said.

Little Belle won the Grade 1 Ashland in April over Keeneland's synthetic surface, and the Ruffian is designed to get her to the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland next month. Since the Ashland, Little Belle finished second in the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks, and was third in the Alabama. She is cutting back from 1 1/4 miles in her last two starts to 1 1/16 miles.

"I'd like to think turning back is going to help her," said Rick Mettee, who oversees Godolphin Racing's New York string. "I don't know how much the 1-hole is going to hurt her."

Little Belle will be coupled with Stage Luck, who is owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable. Stage Luck has not run since finishing fourth in the Next Move and, according to trainer Tom Albertrani, this will be her last start.

Rite Moment is 3 for 4 over wet tracks. Copper State finished second to Ginger Punch in the Go for Wand. Boca Grande is winless in seven starts since winning the Grade 2 Comely 17 months ago.