Undefeated in three starts including a victory over rival Quality Road last out, Blame has passed every test this season. On Oct. 2, the 4-year-old son of Arch will look to conquer yet another hurdle when he tries 10 furlongs for the first time against seven solid foes in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Blame was installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the JCGC, where he will take on grade I winner Rail Trip and talented 3-year-old Fly Down, among others, in a major prep for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). The Gold Cup is the last of five grade I events on Belmont’s Saturday program. Post time is slated for 5:48 p.m. EDT.
A homebred of Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Blame is unbeaten in his last five starts dating back to October 2009 and has won eight of 11 overall. His 2010 season includes victories in the William Donald Schaefer Stakes (gr. III), Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), and Whitney Handicap (gr. I)—the last two at nine furlongs. In the Aug. 7 Whitney at Saratoga, Blame ran down Quality Road in the final strides when scoring by a head to prove he belongs at or near the top of the handicap division. A good showing in the JCGC will ensure Blame as one of the favorites in BC Classic on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
After the Whitney, Blame worked twice at Saratoga before leaving for Keeneland, where he has turned in four solid breezes, including a four-furlong move in :48-flat on Sept. 27. Garrett Gomez, aboard for all three wins this year, will have the mount once again when they break from post 2.
“I don’t think the distance is a question,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “Everything he has done, and factor in his pedigree and his (closing) style, I think points to a mile and a quarter. We’ve been looking forward to a mile and quarter since last year actually. So I don’t think we have much to worry about as far as him staying the trail.
“But he is really set up well for the next two races. He is carrying very good flesh and he has a lot to work with.”
Blame, who is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Liable, will make his debut at Belmont. He has earned $1,518,214.
Jay Em Ess Stable’s Rail Trip has won at 10 furlongs, but still has plenty to prove since he will be making his debut on dirt and enters off a three-month layoff. Previously trained by Ron Ellis in California, the 5-year-old Jump Start gelding has made all 12 career starts on synthetics, including three this season. He was transferred to the New York barn of Rick Dutrow Jr. after finishing runner-up in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) on July 10. It was a move that was made with the Breeders’ Cup in mind.
Dutrow was originally hoping to run Rail Trip in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) last month, but a couple of minor injuries forced him to miss that race. Apparently healthy, the bay has turned in a series of solid works in New York, including a four-furlong breeze on Sept. 29 at Aqueduct when he was clocked at :49.38.
Rail Trip won impressively in his first two starts on 2010, taking the May 8 Mervyn Leroy Handicap (gr. II) by 3 1/4 lengths and June 12 California Stakes (gr. II) as the 1-5 favorite—both at Hollywood. Last year, he won the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup by three lengths for his lone grade I victory.
"The clock starts ticking now,” said Dutrow, who indicated that Rail Trip will run with an aluminum pad to protect the frog in his right front foot. “He’s been training well at Saratoga, and at Aqueduct, for the past month and we’re hoping he runs his race. He hasn’t been getting tired with those fast works, and we’re happy with where we are with him.”
Cornelio Velasquez rides Rail Trip (5-2), who is 8-3-1 from 12 starts. They drew the outside post.
The only 3-year-old in the race is Richard Pell’s Fly Down (9-2), who scored his biggest win in the Dwyer (gr. II) at Belmont in May. The Mineshaft colt has not won since but has turned in a couple of good efforts. He missed by less than a length in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), was fifth in a troubled trip in the Jim Dandy (gr. II), and last out was beaten a nose by Afleet Express in the Travers (gr. I).
Fly Down, to be ridden by Jose Lezcano from the inside post, is trained by Nick Zito, who won this race in 2000 with Albert the Great.
Turtle Bird Stable’s Haynesfield could wind up being on the lead. The Speightstown colt had a four-race win streak broken in the Whitney when he finished a tiring fourth after breaking through the gate at the start, but he is clearly a colt that has improved dramatically over the last 12 months. Two starts back, the chestnut colt won the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) for his second triumph this season. It was the fourth career victory at Belmont for the Steve Asmussen trainee. Ramon Dominguez will keep the mount.
“That was a disappointment because of the gate fiasco,” said Toby Sheets, assistant to Asmussen, who won the race in 2007-08 with Curlin. “He didn’t get a fair shot because of that. This is another chance for a grade I, and he’s been training very well up to it. I don’t think the 1 1/4 miles will be a problem, and he’s run well fresh in the past.”
Other contenders include millionaire Dry Martini, a three-time graded stakes winner who was fifth in last year’s JCGC; two-time graded stakes winner Hold Me Back; and Mythical Power and Tranquil Manner, second and third, respectively, to Quality Road last out in the Sept. 4 Woodward (gr. I).
The Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will provide live coverage of the five grade I races at Belmont Oct. 2, beginning with a three-hour broadcast that starts at 3 p.m. The broadcast can be heard on the HRRN flagship station, WLXO 96.1 FM in Lexington, Ky., and will be streamed live on both the HRRN website and Breeders’ Cup site. Mike Penna will anchor the HRRN coverage, along with analyst and former top trainer Jude Feld.
$750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I, Race 10, 5:48 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Fly Down (KY), J Lezcano, 122, N P Zito
2. Blame (KY), G K Gomez 126, A M Stall Jr.
3. Mythical Power (KY), J R Velazquez, 126, B Baffert
4. Tranquil Manner (KY), A Garcia 126, K P McLaughlin
5. Dry Martini (FL), E S Prado, 126, B Tagg
6. Haynesfield (NY), R A Dominguez, 126, S M Asmussen
7. Hold Me Back (KY), R Maragh, 126, W I Mott
8. Rail Trip (KY), C H Velasquez, 126, R E Dutrow Jr.