Blame Ready To Challenge The Fillies

BLAME READY TO CHALLENGE THE FILLIES

Over the past 20 months, horse racing had pretty much turned into a girls game — or at least the slick filly Rachel Alexandra and the undefeated mare Zenyatta made it seem that way. But in the final strides of the 83rd running of the Whitney Handicap, a serious male horse finally showed himself.

Blame, left, passed Quality Road, center, and Musket Man to win the Whitney Handicap.

He is a 4-year-colt named Blame, and he is going to draw a lot of attention leading into the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Blame flashed down the stretch of this stately track as if he were a thunderbolt shot from the fingers of Zeus, winning by a head and earning his fifth consecutive victory.

In the process, he collared Quality Road, who many thought was among the fastest horses in the world.

Blame may eventually have to face Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, who ran her record to 18-0 by winning her third consecutive Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, by a neck Saturday in Del Mar, Calif. It was the second-closest finish of her career.

Still, Blame looks as if he is up to the task.

Most bettors among the crowd of 36,658 apparently believed Quality Road, the speedy son of Elusive Quality, was a lock to capture his 8th victory in 11 starts and sent him off as the prohibitive 1-2 favorite. The trainer Todd Pletcher saw his colt effortlessly hit the stretch a length and a half ahead of a game Musket Man and could not be faulted for believing his and Quality Road’s next stop was the winner’s circle.

But Blame was just finding his turbo gear beneath jockey Garrett Gomez, who was rubbing on his neck like a washboard and holding on for dear life.

“I never hit him,” Gomez said. “I was just biding my time until we turned for home. He’s got a long, consistent run and just keeps coming.”

Blame’s strides looked as if they were being enhanced by a trampoline as he gained on Quality Road.

Ahead of Gomez and Blame, jockey John Velazquez could sense a charge coming and peeked over his shoulder. There was Blame.

“I was hoping there’d be nobody there, so I got to drifting,” Velazquez said. “I was trying to make it more difficult for the horse on the outside.”

Gomez, however, said he knew Blame was going to pass Quality Road no matter how wide he was pushed. “When I finally got right to him, I said, ‘I got him,’ ” Gomez said.

Velazquez and Pletcher seemed surprised as well as a little awed by Blame’s performance. “We had a comfortable trip and set reasonable fractions,” Pletcher said of the leisurely mile of 1 minute 36.37 seconds that Quality Road ran as five rivals gave chase. “Blame ran a big race.”

Gomez and Blame’s trainer, Al Stall Jr., hardly seemed surprised. They have known for some time that they had a talented horse, one who has drawn little publicity despite winning 8 of 11 starts.

“We were super confident,” Gomez said. “It’s just one of those things you don’t want to say too much so you can let the horse do the talking. He’s been trained magnificently for this race and every other race I’ve ridden him in.”

The $450,000 first-place check Blame picked up for the owners Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider increased the colt’s bankroll to nearly $1.5 million. His backers were rewarded $8.80 for a $2 bet to win. He covered the mile-and-an-eighth distance in 1:48.88 and was barely blowing in the winner’s circle.

Gomez said he noticed Blame’s calm demeanor after the race and could only dream about the mile-and-a-quarter trip awaiting them in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Gomez and Blame are ready to inject some testosterone into the sport.

“He’s a magnificent older horse, and I can’t wait until we go farther,” Gomez said. “He can run all day.”

Bring on Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

by Joe Drape
from nytimes.com

19
Nov

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