Blame Angel previously ran on Father's Day at Churchill Downs, winning at 17-1 odds as the last horse to run with Tom R. McCarthy as trainer. McCarthy died July 21 at age 82 in Louisville after battling stage-four melanoma.
Blame Angel, a day later in the $20,000 claiming race, became the first horse to run with his son, Tom S. McCarthy, as the trainer of record, though he long had been involved with his father's horses. Tim McCarthy, also Tom R.'s son, is co-owner of 4-year-old Blame Angel with Gilbert Nutt of Louisville.
"When I pulled off I-64 onto I-69 outside of Evansville, I looked up and I said, 'Help us out today. Give us some help, because I know you'll push us,' " Tom S. McCarthy said. "And he did. So we won on Father's Day. He was watching, (but) wasn't at the track because he was very, very ill. And we won today. So all is good."
The late McCarthy was the feel-good story heading into the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He was was a retired biology teacher and high-school principal, who long had trained and owned a horse or two on the side. He had no horses when he claimed General Quarters for $20,000 the first time the gray colt ran in 2008.
His one-horse stable burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene with General Quarters taking the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Though he did not run well in the Derby—he finished 10th with a tough trip—he returned on Derby day in 2010 to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) in his grass debut.
McCarthy had four horses in training at Churchill's Trackside Training Center, their care overseen by Tom S. McCarthy and retired engineer Jerry Hills, a former student of the elder McCarthy and now owner. There also are 2-year-olds sired by General Quarters in Lexington owned by family and friends and a yearling in Ocala, Fla., along with two mares in foal to General Quarters. And there's a 4-month-old colt by General Quarters that will be named Tom's Little General.
Blame Angel was ridden at Ellis Park by Brian Hernandez Jr. After the winner's circle presentation, jockeys Robby Albarado (who during one stretch road General Quarters as a 4-year-old) and Miguel Mena (who rode Blame Angel in his Churchill victory, but was committed to another horse Friday) came up to offer their congratulations and condolences to the McCarthy brothers.
"It makes you want to cry," said Hills, who began helping his former teacher at the barn before the 2009 Blue Grass and wound up being partners in horses with Tom S. McCarthy "That was tough."
The McCarthy brothers never thought about scratching Blame Angel from the July 22 race.
"Friends of mine were all like, 'You're going to scratch him,' " Tom S. McCarthy said. "I said, 'No. Dad would want him to go.' "
Blame Angel was claimed for $30,000 1 1/2 years ago and now has won five of 12 starts for the McCarthy family.
A funeral mass will take place July 26 at 10 a.m. EDT at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 501 Cherrywood Road, Louisville, with a private burial to follow. Visitation is 2-8 p.m. July 25 at Ratterman and Sons, 3800 Bardstown Road in Louisville.