Three-year-old Blame ensconced himself as a leading player in next year's national handicap picture when he seized the lead from fellow sophomore Misremembered at the eighth pole and held on for a neck victory in the $460,600 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Churchill Downs Nov. 27.
Trained by Albert Stall Jr. and owners/breeders Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, Blame closed his 2008 campaign with back-to-back grade II victories at nine furlongs after also capturing Keeneland's Fayette Stakes (gr. II) on Polytrack Oct. 31. The son of Arch--Liable, by Seeking the Gold, has won four of six starts this year with one second and one third.
"He just continues to get better and better," Stall said. "He’s a wonderful looking horse with a tremendous pedigree. We’ve just spaced his races and taken our time with him and pointed to the end of the year and a 4-year-old type of campaign. He’s shown up every time.”
Breaking from post 5 in a 14-horse field with Jamie Theriot aboard, Blame was stuck wide in eighth on the clubhouse turn but was able to get a position four wide on the backstretch. Bidding five wide on the final turn, Blame maneuvered between horses in upper stretch to challenge Misrembered and 41-1 Anak Nakal approaching the eighth pole.
After putting his head in front, Blame took control but had to dig in over the final sixteenth against Misremembered. The latter surged past Etched to get the lead at the quarter pole and battled Anak Nakal through the lane, fighting back along the inside for jockey Victor Espinoza after Blame took over. Blame held on under strong urging from Theriot.
“He took me to the lead well within himself,"Theriot said. "Once he gets in front he starts to look around and loses a little bit of interest. I felt the horse on the inside start coming to me, and my horse started to dig in when he felt the pressure. He kept giving me more. We could have went around again and the outcome wouldn’t have changed. That’s how he does it. This was a very good field of horses he beat today. You will probably be seeing a lot of him as a 4-year-old.”
Multiple grade I winner Einstein, who had to overcome the far outside post in the big field and top weight of 123 pounds, rallied for third under Rajiv Maragh, finishing a half-length behind the winner. Giant Oak overcame a slow break to run fourth.
The winning time for the 1 1/8-mile late season test was 1:49.39.
Macho Again, the 7-2 choice, raced at the back of the pack in 13th for six furlongs, made a mild move while wide on the final turn and finished ninth with no late kick.
The 112-1 outsider Anarko established the lead while posting sensible fractions of :23.69 and :47.60 before giving way to Etched, who completed six furlongs in 1:12.60 but could not handle the pressure from Misremembered, who was always close to the pace. The Southern California-based colt, coming off a victory in the Indiana Derby (gr. II) for trainer Bob Baffert in his only prior start on dirt Oct. 3, took a narrow lead into the stretch.
"He was there – he just came up short and got beat by a nice horse," Baffert said. "We’re just mad that we didn’t bet that good 3-year-old exacta there.”
Baffert said Misremembered would be freshened up for the Santa Anita series for 4-year-olds this winter.
Blame broke his maiden in his second start as a 2-year-old. Never worse than third in eight lifetime races, Blame ran his career mark to 5-1-2 while boosting his earnings to $616,747. The Clark victory was worth $259,872. Prior to his Fayette win, the bay colt ran second in the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs. He has won two of three starts at Churchill for Stall.
Stall said Blame would spend the winter at Fair Grounds and noted that the Breeders’ Cup is at Churchill next year. "He could do a number of things. He’s done everything; he’s won on [synthetic surfaces] and he’s run well on the dirt. It’ll be fun talking about it.”
Sent off as the second choice, Blame carried 118 pounds and paid $10.80, $6, and $4.20. Misremembered, winner of the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park this summer, returned $10.20 and $6.40 and rounded out a $129 exacta. The 7-year-old Einstein, ridden by Maragh for the first time, rebounded from his 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 7 with a big effort. He paid $4.60 to show.
“He ran fantastic, said Einstein's trainer, Helen Pitts-Blasi."The way it panned out turning for home they kind of stacked up on him, but when he did get through he gave it his all, as usual. He ran his heart out today. I can’t complain. Rajiv rode a great race. He didn’t win, but it was good.
She said she doesn't know if Einstein will be retired. "We’ll have to see what Mr. (Frank) Stronach says.”
The Brazilian-bred was supplemented to the Dec. 13 Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) at Sha Tin racecourse.
Giant Oak was followed by Anak Nakal, Dubious Miss, Bullsbay , Demarcation, Macho Again, KIss the Kid, You and I Forever, Anarko, Etched ,and Timber Reserve.