01/03/2011 1:21PM

Giving credit to Blame


Blame was just doing what he was born to do when he held off Zenyatta to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. He was doing the same three months earlier when he ran down Quality Road in the Whitney at Saratoga.

Blame has always tried to do the right thing. His pedigree is topnotch, he has gentle eyes and an unusually dished face, and he is easy to work with. Were he able to read the online vitriol occasionally slung his way, he’d be mighty confused.

His destiny was aimed squared toward that moment in the darkness beneath Churchill’s spires and lights, in the year when Claiborne Farm was celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Blame winning the Whitney (L) and the Breeders' Cup Classic

Blame was born with one of racing’s most historic pedigrees – both equine and human. His dam, Liable, was out of a Claiborne mare named Bound, and Bound was a daughter of the Claiborne-bred Special. Special’s dam Thong was also a Claiborne homebred, a daughter of the immortal *Rough Shod II, who was brought to this country by Arthur ‘Bull’ Hancock in 1951.

Blame was a son of a Claiborne sire to boot. Arch, handsome and near-black like his sire Kris S., is a son of a classy Alydar mare named Aurora. Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, breeders/owners of Blame, bought Arch as a yearling.

As such, more than a half-century of mares grazing Claiborne lands, and a Claiborne stallion, led to Blame’s arrival on May 2, 2006.

In 2009 at age 3, Blame posted notice that he was special when he won the Curlin at Saratoga, the Fayette at Keeneland and the Clark at Churchill – the last two against older horses. To those who would listen, trainer Al Stall, Jr. said they were taking their time in order to have a top handicap horse in 2010.

And Blame proved Al correct this past season, gradually building his reputation while winning stakes at Pimlico, Saratoga and two at Churchill Downs. In three of those, including the Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic, Garrett Gomez rarely hit the colt down the lane, shaking the reins instead when laying it on the line. Garrett didn’t punish him when he ranged up alongside Quality Road or when Zenyatta pressed down upon him.

Blame lost once this year - a flat-out loss to Haynesfield. But good horses, even great horses, get beat. Forego lost 23 times, but he was still Forego.

After the Breeders’ Cup, Mike Smith paid a high compliment to the determined bay colt. “(Zenyatta) responded really, really well, but my hat’s off to Blame. I needed him to fold, but he didn’t.”

And Jerry Moss said of Zenyatta, “She lost to a really great horse.”

And so the Claiborne stars aligned on that Breeders’ Cup day, and Blame soon headed back to the place of his birth to enter stud.

Blame at Saratoga in 2010 (above), and (clockwise from top left, below): winning 2009 Curlin with Jamie Theriot up, after 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic with Garrett Gomez up and Al Stall to right, Al Stall and Garrett Gomez at Saratoga, Blame with Al Stall upon Blame's Churchill arrival in November 2010, Adele Dischneider with Blame morning after Breeders' Cup Classic, Garrett Gomez up on Blame at Saratoga 2010, and Al Stall with Blame at Pimlico in May 2010

Below -- First row:  Arch with Shane Sellers up in 1997, Arch, Danzig, Seeking the Gold.  Second row: Aurora at Belmont Park in 1990 and Bound at Saratoga 1986. Third row: Blame's dam Liable, including with her 2010 Tiznow filly (foal later died)

Enter Kevin Lay, a young man who has worked at Claiborne for about half of his 35 years. That makes him a relative newcomer there, as some employees claim 25 or more years. They’re often ‘lifers.’  Kevin jokes that he wants to be buried some day in the Claiborne equine cemetery. And Kevin’s not the only member of his family to work at the storied farm, as his brother and two brothers-in-law work there, too.

Kevin has worked all around the place – with the broodmares, the yearlings, delivering foals. And for 6 years now, the stallion barn has been his home. He has tended to sires like Danzig, Out of Place, Devil’s Bag, Go for Gin, Seeking the Gold (Blame’s broodmare sire) and Arch.

His newest charge is Blame.

“They allowed me the day off to go watch the race,” Kevin said, referring to the Classic. “I think I was one of only 30 people screaming for Blame. We had mixed emotions, of course, because Zenyatta was such a great athlete. She drew a lot of attention to our sport. But being a homebred kid from Claiborne, if someone had to beat her, I didn’t want it to be anyone other than Blame.”

It was Kevin who brought Blame home. “I went up to Keeneland and Ms. Dilschneider rode on the van with me on the way back. So I got to have about a 45-minute conversation with her. Not too many grooms get to ride with the lady that owns half of the Breeders’ Cup champion. She was excited, and she’s put a lot of time and money into the game, and she’s been a great client for the farm.”

What is Blame like to work with? “He’s so smart,” Kevin said. “It’s almost like he knows what you want to do with him in advance. We had him out (in his paddock) 45 minutes after his arrival. He put on about a 10-minute show, and since then, he’s been like the rest of the guys.

“He’s a lot like (his sire) Arch. Arch is a kind horse to work with, he’s very intelligent. Especially in the breeding shed, he makes our lives easy.”

Blame made our lives easy, too, doing whatever we asked – stand for a conformation shot, pose looking left and right and walk alongside Kevin with his head high and ears forward. It was good to see that pretty dished face again. He only protested once, and it was mild. We posed him in a spot where the background was pure Claiborne – white barns, yellow trim and evergreen trees, with a touch of fresh snow. It also happened to be on the way to the breeding shed.

Well, in recent days Blame had learned what that shed was for during test breeding sessions, and he assumed he was going back. When Kevin pulled the leadshank to take him back to his stall – a stall occupied in the past by Buckpasser and Devil’s Bag - Blame tossed his head in protest. He acted neither stupid nor stallion-like but he stood there for a while, hooves planted, his wise eyes hopefully looking back toward the shed.

Don’t worry, boy. You’ll get your chance to carry on the Claiborne legacy.