August 5, 2010
Anyone around this game for longer than five minutes appreciates its history and the debt history owes to some of the landed gentry who decided that improving the breed was as good a way as any to challenge your heart and your bankroll. And no one gambles more on race horses than those who breed and but them.
Of course, breeding to race seems to have gone the way of high-button shoes, worn when names like Greentree and Calumet and Belair Stud and Claiborne Farm filled their paddocks with the bluest of blue-blooded animals. Bull Hancock of Claiborne, in fact, syndicated the great Secretariat for $6-million, an unheard sum in the early 1970s.
Probably none of this would have come to mind had it not been for a horse called Blame, a winner of six of his last seven starts and the 4-1 early line second choice to Quality Road in Saturday’s Whitney Invitational Handicap.
Back in the day, I was told that you can always recognize a Claiborne newcomer if it had a classy, speedy pedigree and was given a one syllable name. The appropriately named Blame, bred by the partnership of Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider, is by Arch, from the Seeking the Gold mare, Liable.
“If you go way back you’ll see all those good Claiborne mares,” said trainer Al Stall Jr. “My grandfather did business with Bull Hancock, so we’ve been associated with them for three generations. It’s a privilege to train this horse.”
It’s probably a treat to ride him as well.
It’s a plan that’s worked in six of his last seven starts. That losing effort came in last year’s Super Derby. “Sometimes you learn more in defeat than you do when you win. I know Richard Migliore [aboard impressive winner Regal Ransom] had to be shocked that somebody was making up ground on him late.”
Blame’s always making up ground on the competition. “His ability to keep running furlongs in 12s and then keep kicking is his best attribute,” Stall said on a conference call earlier this week. “He needed his first race this year then won the Foster and we didn’t put too much pressure on him. He overcame a lot to win that day.”
By the same token, Stall is being realistic about his chances in the Whitney. “We knew Quality Road would be here. If [Quality Road] can run [a half mile] in :45 flat I’ll be smiling. Garrett will be smiling. We’ll be way off him, that’s for sure.
“Ramon [Dominguez, aboard expected presser Haynesfield] holds all the cards. I know we’ll run our ’A’ race. If Quality Road runs his ’A’ race, a 2-5 shot is supposed to beat a 4-1 shot. I’m anxious to see just where we fit.
“It look like two horses will go out there. I was happy to see Quality Road draw inside Haynesfield. I’m sure Ramon and Johnny will play a little cat and mouse and back [the pace] up a little bit.
Stall has pointed Blame toward the Whitney all year, as has Todd Pletcher with Quality Road. But the big prize is still the feature race at Churchill Downs on November 6, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic is shaping up as the race of the year if all the anticipated players show up. Stall is acting like he thinks he fits.
“My horse has a tremendous record there. He’s experience will help. The Churchill track in the fall is a little different than the one in the spring. It’s our home track and it’s a mile and a quarter. After this, we’ll pick a race as a tune-up. It could be the Woodward, or it could be the Jockey Club Gold Cup.”
Blame’s sire Arch is a son of the long winded Kris S. Seeking the Gold on the female side is a producer of stamina. And then here’s all that classy Claiborne blood coursing through his veins.
In a race named for the family of another dedicated breeder and patron of the turf, it is fitting that some old school blood from one of the modern sport’s foundations nurseries will find its way into the starting for one of this country’s most prestigious handicaps, trained by a third generation horseman. Thoroughbred racing, as it was meant to be.