Older Male: Blame a Unanimous Choice
Perhaps not since Upset nearly a century ago has a horse been as aptly named as Blame. Although the word was in wide use before Upset upset the great Man o’ War at Saratoga in 1919, marring what otherwise was a perfect record, the horse’s feat in the Sanford Memorial certainly furthered its usage for any underdog that subsequently upended a favorite.
Which brings us to Blame, who may best be remembered (and blamed by some) for whom he defeated rather than for his own considerable achievements and talent. Certainly, there is no controversy over Blame being named the champion older male for 2010. The only question remains in the minds of those who must pass judgment on whether he was a superior horse to Zenyatta, whose otherwise perfect record he spoiled when he became the only horse in her 20-race career she failed to pass before the finish line. For legions of the great mare’s fans, Blame is, in fact, the one to blame.
The Hancock family of Claiborne Farm and its great partner, Adele Dilschneider, had no such issues in mind when the son of the Claiborne-based Arch came into their lives in 2006. Blame is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Liable, who was co-bred by Claiborne and raced by the farm and Dilschneider.
“If you’re liable for something,” explained Claiborne’s Dell Hancock of selecting a name for the colt, “you might get blamed.”
There was precious little blame to go around once the horse got to training. He was broken by Jane Dunne at Holly Hill Farm in South Carolina and was well thought of right off jump street. After a pair of starts at 2,
Blame missed significant time with his sole setback, a foot problem that kept him off the Triple Crown trail in 2009. After a trio of stakes victories late in his 3-year-old career, trainer Al Stall Jr. and Claiborne president Seth Hancock suspected they had a serious horse on their hands, and at year’s end they sat down and plotted a very specific course for his 2010 campaign.
“The odds of a plan hatched a year in advance coming off as mapped are off the charts,” Stall said. “From a gambling standpoint, it couldn’t happen.”
But it did. Blame proved best in the William Donald Schaefer Stakes (gr. III) at Pimlico May 15, and a month later found himself tackling grade I company for the first time in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Racing wide the entire nine furlongs, Blame sped past his field in a visually impressive performance that marked his coming-out party in top-class competition.
The Aug. 7 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) offered the first head-to-head duel between Blame and multiple grade I winner Quality Road . Determined to achieve greatness in the year that Claiborne Farm marked its 100th anniversary as a legendary Kentucky Thoroughbred institution, Blame ran down Quality Road in the shadow of the wire, taking the Whitney by a head and installing himself at the head of the handicap division.
Only a runner-up finish in 2009’s Super Derby (gr. II) in an oddly run race kept Blame from an eight-race winning streak when he entered the gate for the Oct. 2 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park, so it was rather shocking when he ran a distant second to runaway winner Haynesfield in a race his detractors are quick to point at when, well, blaming him. But Haynesfield got away with easy fractions that day, and the lack of a gut-wrenching effort may well have helped Blame in his next and final race.
The Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) lived up to its name. Sent off as the 5-1 third choice, Blame sat in seventh position early over the Churchill Downs strip he enjoyed so much in the Foster. Zenyatta, meantime, was spinning her wheels last of 12, and Quality Road was up prompting the pace through the first six furlongs. As Quality Road faded from the frame, Blame began his drive at the quarter pole and captured the lead while racing four wide into the stretch. Zenyatta was screaming past horses, cutting first to the inside, then back out again, and, as she had for her entire career, set her sights on the horse between her and the wire.
This time, though, that horse was Blame, and he had no intention of faltering. Although the great mare closed ground, Blame remained steadfast, persevering by a head as they hit the line.
Not long after, Blame made the short trip back home to Claiborne to commence his next career in the stallion barn. Back home, where he is every bit the hero that Zenyatta is to her legion of fans. For on its 100th anniversary, the Claiborne family had something truly remarkable to celebrate; something that is the product of generations of breedings and the source of all their pride. And you can’t blame them.
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