Stall Looks Back On Championship's Run
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Stall looks back on Blame's championship run
Breeders' Cup Classic (G1)-winning trainer Al Stall Jr. left the afterglow of BLAME's (Arch) heart-pounding victory Saturday over super mare ZENYATTA (Street Cry [Ire]) to end her perfect record and headed to his hometown of New Orleans midmorning Sunday.
In the meantime, the four-year-old Blame was awaiting his next move -- a trip to Paris, Kentucky, where he will stand alongside his sire as a stallion at historic Claiborne beginning in 2011. Blame is co-owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.
Stall had time to be a bit introspective before setting off for regular wintertime southern exposure.
'It's exciting the way things worked out,' Stall said of his good fortune. 'It's a rare thing in this game to make a long-term plan that works. Our stable has been on fire for some unknown reason. That's the way horseracing is and we'll take anything that comes our way. A lot of horsemen work every bit as hard as we do, but don't get as far as we have. We were just in the right place at the right time.'
As for what he saw in Blame, Stall said, 'We thought a lot of him from the day he walked into the barn as a two-year-old, but you don't ever know that they are this elite. That's the beauty of this game.'
The Classic seemed to shape up just the way Stall had hoped it would.
'I loved the trip he was having. I liked the way it was setting up,' he said. 'He had a little scrimmage on the front end at the quarter-pole, but when he got through there and kind of pushed LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) out of the way, here comes Zenyatta and they both just made tracks for the wire.
'I know the Zenyatta people aren't happy with the outcome, but, believe me, she didn't lose anything in defeat. As everybody knows, she's the best racemare there's ever been in the game.'
As for a possible Horse of the Year honor for Blame, Stall said, 'We're in the mix, and what happened on the field of strife, hopefully will have a bearing on the outcome.
'I'm real happy for him,' Stall added about Blame's impending retirement. 'He won't have to go through the grind anymore. He deserves it.'
Dell Hancock, sister of Claiborne Farm president Seth Hancock and frequent spokesperson for the farm, was at the Stall barn Sunday morning with co-owner Adele Dilschneider.
'It was a clean-run race and both horses ran their races,' she said about the Classic winner. 'I don't think she (Zenyatta) ever passed Blame -- not even in the gallop out. She's a wonderful mare and she's been great for racing, but I think Blame is a very, very special horse, and I think the best horse won yesterday.
'I know (jockey) Mike (Smith) is blaming himself (for not riding Zenyatta to victory) and that doesn't surprise me. Every time he comes out to Keeneland, he comes out to see Lure (two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile with Smith aboard and retired at Claiborne). He loves his horses and I know he loves that mare -- like we love our horse. So he shouldn't blame himself.
'When you line up, that's the chance you take.'
Nick Zito was in awe of the Classic finish that saw Blame holding off Zenyatta's furious late bid, but the Hall of Fame trainer thinks that it could well have been even more exciting had FLY DOWN (Mineshaft) not been put in tight by another horse on the backstretch.
'If he doesn't do that, there may be three horses on the wire. Put it this way -- he would have been closer anyway,' said Zito, whose Classic starter finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Zenyatta, who was only a head short of catching Blame. 'I'm glad as it turned out that he got up for third.'
Zito expects that Fly Down will be pointed toward the 2011 Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) after talking with the colt's owner Mataab bin Abdullah.
Although disappointed with the trip Fly Down received, he shared the racing world's enthusiasm for the thrilling photo finish behind Blame and Zenyatta. Despite suffering defeat for the first time in her 20-race career, Zenyatta received rave reviews from Zito.
'People should realize that she is still a filly and that everything she did was miraculous. She's going to go down as one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest,' he said. 'I was thinking about this yesterday. I've been doing this since I was 16-years old. I've watched all the great fillies in my career, all of them. I was very excited as everyone else about Rachel Alexandra last year, and I saw Affectionately, Ta Wee, Shuvee and on and on and on. But there's no question that she rates right up there. She could be the best of all time, in my opinion. I think she could be the greatest filly of all time.'
Neal McLaughlin, assistant trainer to brother Kiaran McLaughlin, reported ETCHED (Forestry) came out of his sixth-place Classic run in fine shape. The five-year-old chestnut faltered through the stretch after taking a brief lead coming off the final turn in the 1 1/4-mile affair.
'The race worked out exactly how we thought -- that he'd be stalking the pace and he'd hopefully make a move on the outside and go by them at the top of the stretch. There were just some awfully good ones behind him to close,' Neal McLaughlin said. 'We would have loved to have finished higher. He gave us a thrill when he put his head in front at the top of the stretch -- a lot of Kentucky Derby (G1) winners have won by taking the lead at the top of the stretch. But it was a good effort, but I think he's better at a mile to a mile-and-an-eighth.'
Despite winning three Breeders' Cup events, trainer Todd Pletcher didn't have any luck in the feature events each day. LIFE AT TEN (Malibu Moon) did not even finish the Ladies' Classic (G1) Friday evening, and the conditioner revealed that blood tests on the mare confirmed high muscle enzyme levels and that the chestnut probably was suffering from cramps. She has recovered.
'I think the owners are going to let the dust settle and make a decision whether they're going to race her again,' he said. 'The potential is there that she will race next year. She was withdrawn from the (Fasig-Tipton) sale today and we're going to monitor her blood work. Right now she's going to stay here until we know what she's going to do.'
Then there was Saturday's Classic, where QUALITY ROAD (Elusive Quality), who had dropped just one start this season when second by a head to Blame in the Whitney H. (G1), was expected to be challenging at the end. Instead, the four-year-old bay stalked the early pace set by FIRST DUDE (Stephen Got Even) for about a mile under rider John Velazquez, but slowed in the second turn and finished last in the field of 12.
Pletcher said Quality Road, who has been retired and will begin stud duties at Lane's End next year, was OK Sunday morning.
'Johnny said he never, never gripped the track,' the trainer explained. 'The one thing we kind of wanted to do was to get him off the rail at some point. We felt that if maybe there were any quirks about the track it was that maybe the inside path was the worst. He never was able to get out of that position with him and was always stuck down inside. Johnny said the track was cupping away from him and never could get going.'
Quality Road won eight of 13 starts, including the Florida Derby (G1) as a sophomore and this season's Woodward S. (G1), Metropolitan H. (G1) and Donn H. (G1). Of his four other wins, three also came in graded events, and the bay has banked $2,232,830 in lifetime earnings.
'He's a brilliant horse, very, very gifted,' Pletcher said. 'His resume shows how versatile he was to set track records at Saratoga 6 1/2 (furlongs) and track records going a mile-and-an-eighth at Gulfstream. He was a very good horse.'
Pletcher added that Blame's victory over Zenyatta should determine the Horse of the Year Award.
'For me, the deciding factor in any close calls is head-to-head matchups,' he said. 'While I think Zenyatta ran an unbelievable race, had not only a tremendous year but a tremendous career, but ultimately it should be decided on the racetrack. But I don't get a vote.'
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