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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.
I know I don't give enough credit to Blame for the race he ran and for the season he had. I guess I am just too biased when it comes to Zenyatta. I should be more gracious like the Moss' when they say that "She lost to a really great horse". Your pictures are lovely as are your words and I appreciate your sharing them with us. It makes a difference in my attitude. >
That's funny K. "People made fun of my big nose, until I put it to good use"
Blame definitely resembles his dishy-faced damsire more than his sire, almost a carbon copy! He's a gorgeous colt with a grand pedigree, deserving of respect in every regard. I started following Blame in '09 and he would've been my #1 in 2010 if Zenyatta hadn't been un-retired. He never gave up, never stopped running his best even if that meant settling for 2nd. I'm dismayed when I read the way some "fans" on either side put down the other, same as last year with RA/Zen. I don't believe anyone really HATES the other horse, it's just the way people have learned, in this TV/Internet age, to defend the team they are self-aligned with. Maybe this mentality has always been as vicious, but less jarring because more restricted in scope. Anyhow, I just love horses and have never intentionally denigrated one to prop up another.
Hi, Let me just apologize to Ann who obviously loves Arch very much. Every juggler will tell you that mistakes happen when the focus wanders. And I did not intend to remove a generation with several keystrokes, or in this particular case, the lack thereof. On my original post, I was working off old notes from the BC while typing in the “blog box” and jumping to my pedigree screen while also being enthralled by pics of Arch, Aurora and Seeking the Gold, horses that I all saw run thrilling races at the Spa. At some point I decided to eliminate reference to these fine horses and in the process ignored Arch as I traced Blames's family tree. No sense letting facts get in the way of a good story-line. My point was to have been that the horses are not far removed from each other. Blames's paternal grand-sire is Kris S. who is also Zenyatta's maternal grand-sire. Which I think is pretty cool and BDL handled it very well in my opinion. But I blew it. Anyway, Blame enthusiasts should gear for a big night as the early returns look to be going their way. He is a wonderful horse that deserves all the praise. And thanks Barbara, You are the Best. >
Barbara First I hope to call you such, as we have never been introduced...or maybe Ms Livingston is better? (...one never knows what is proper etiquette in these 'blog' matters :) ) It is obvious to me that you are very popular, as I see alot of 'cross over' fans from other DRF blogs sites checking in here. (me included) Another nicely balanced article, and such terrific photos...You CAN'T help but be drawn in. Blame / Zenyatta ...they were both terrific in their own ways this year. Me, I'm a fan of Zenyatta and have followed her since she broke her maiden...BUT, I have been watching Blame and rooting for him since the beginning of this year. It's good to be a FAN of racing now, especially these past few years. How can one go wrong with a Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Goldikova, Blame...and so many more? One can't! One just has to go on and hope for more. I'm glad that Goldikova will come back for another season, as long as she is happy & healthy. Thanks again Barbara ..and I look forward to your next 'subject'.
I was so fortunate to see Blame at Pimlico, at Saratoga, and then at Belmont. Your story brings him so much closer to the fans. Alas, I am bitter that we do not get to see for just one more year (six races perhaps I would beg) Blame do what he was born to do so well - race. Instead, we will hear of his progeny, some good but almost all of whom will not be able to walk near his shadow. On a positive note, Barbara, your writing is excellent; so poignant and evocative - you are a true pleasure to read, and of course your photography is enchanting.
Hello Barbara. I LOVE your blog!! And the photos give us such a great visual for your words. I am totally behind Zenyatta getting the HOY award but have never understood why that should have to translate into Blame being torn down with sarcasm and disrespect. You've helped us all seethe "whole" of him for the lovely and talented boy that he is and for me, without this perspective, horseracing looses its intrigue and specialness in sports. I am so happy you are part of the DRF blog team. We need your perspective, over and over again.
Barbara, As usual you do a great job of showing the beauty of the horse in an interesting essay. A bit off topic, you once stated that Flag Down was the most beautiful horse you ever photographed. Does that still stand? Thank you for your work.
Thank you for this story. All these horses can do is break from the gate and run their race. They cant speak for themselves any other way. You did a fine job of speaking for this fellow that did run his race only to have even seasoned turf writers declare that they're positive that if the same horses lined up again 20 times the outcome would be diffrent for the overwhelming majority of the contests. The owners trainers and breeders may spend a lifetime and millions of dollars trying to find a horse that accomplished what this fellow Bame did. They shouldnt have to be embarrassed ,sorry or restrain their joy when they succeed. Respecting Blame and giving him the credit deserved for what he did in November against every real contender for the HOY is not the same thing as disrespecting the brilliant race mare who'll forever be remembered as one of the top two or three greatest mares of all time.
To Dorff: Spoken like a typical pompous westcoaster. Nobody is forcing you to read Ms. Livingston's blogs. Blame beat Zenyatta, deal with it. I love the mare too, but you can't blame Blame!