Blame (the horse, not the verb) is a good story in his own right--his trainer, Al Stall Jr., is not exactly a household name in Breeders' Cup annals--but most of us will save his saga for another day. This is one time when the bridesmaid will definitely be catching the bouquet.
"She ran her heart out, but she just came up a little short," said John Shirreffs, who trains Zenyatta. There will be second-guessing that Mike Smith, who's ridden Zenyatta in all but three of her races, had her too far back early, leaving her with too much to do, and there could be something to that. Zenyatta's late runs always produced wins before, many by uncomfortably small margins, but often she was beating second-rate opposition and this time, in the richest race North America has, she was up against the best male horses that had survived the long year.
So Zenyatta will go down as the best horse never to win the Horse of the Year award. A year ago, the voters opted for Rachel Alexandra, who had beaten males two more times than Zenyatta, and this year Blame looks like a lead pipe for the title. He was lightly raced, but three of his four wins were in Grade 1 races, and Haynesfield, the only horse to beat him, was crushed in the Breeders' Cup. Zenyatta will still get some votes, including misplaced support from those who thought she was jobbed out of the title last time, but Blame's win at Churchill, over a surface he loves, was the tell-tale coda to a near-perfect year.
All week, I had bad vibes about the best story falling apart before my very eyes. I kept telling people that I had this hunch that Zenyatta's loop the loop from the quarter pole wouldn't be good enough. But in my dream of the race, I envisioned her coming perhaps a length short, not inches. She ran a winning race, only it won't show in the record book.
The Zenyatta camp was gracious in defeat, as is their fashion. Jerry Moss, Ann Moss' husband, was, like all of us, too accustomed to seeing Zenyatta get up in time all the time. "I thought she would get there," Jerry Moss said. "But she just missed. I'm proud of her. She lost to a great horse."
On ESPN, both Randy Moss (who's not related to Zenyatta's owners) and Jerry Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey, had picked Blame to win. As he was going off the air, Moss said: "I almost feel guilty that we picked Zenyatta to get beat and we were right." But I'll never believe that Zenyatta got beat. She finished second, that's all. My old semantics teacher from college would be proud.