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Blame denies Zenyatta in Breeders' Cup Classic
By Jay Privman
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There is no joy in Louisville. Mighty Zenyatta got beat in her last at bat.
The storybook finish did not include a photo. Zenyatta, seeking her 20th victory without a defeat, came up just short of catching Blame in a dramatic running of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Churchill Downs, falling short by a head after closing furiously from far back.
Zenyatta, a badly trailing last in the field of 12 during the early going – officially 15 lengths behind after a half-mile – came with a powerful late surge after knifing through traffic a quarter-mile out, but Blame ($12.40) stubbornly held her off, ending her unbeaten career, breaking the hearts of the thousands of fans who packed this track to support her, and likely deciding the Horse of the Year title by the length of his head.
“She’s a great horse, Zenyatta is, she had her shot to get by, and she didn’t,” said Seth Hancock, whose family’s legendary Claiborne Farm – which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year – is a co-owner of Blame along with Adele Dilschneider. “He’s won three Grade 1 races, taken his show on the road. I can’t believe he wouldn’t be Horse of the Year.”
Blame won by a head in 2:02.28 for 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track. Zenyatta, the only mare in the race, finished 3 1/2 lengths clear of third-place Fly Down. Lookin At Lucky was fourth.
Paddy O’Prado was fifth and was followed, in order, by Etched, Musket Man, First Dude, Pleasant Prince, Espoir City, Haynesfield, and Quality Road.
The start was likely the final race for Zenyatta, who won the Classic last year and was seeking her third victory in a Breeders’ Cup race. It was only her third start on a dirt surface, and her first at Churchill Downs. Other than winning, she could not have performed more admirably, likely winning over whatever stubborn doubters were out there.
Mike Smith, jockey of Zenyatta, took the result hard. He was in tears after he dismounted and broke down later during a press conference, blaming himself for getting her beat.
“It was my fault,” Smith said at the press conference, dissolving into tears. “She should have won.”
John Shirreffs, trainer of Zenyatta, held up better. He watched the race near the outer rail, about 70 yards from the finish, and gave a resigned shake of his head just after the horses crossed the wire, realizing Zenyatta had lost.
“She just came up a little short,” Shirreffs said.
As Zenyatta came back to be unsaddled, she received a heartfelt ovation from the crowd, which Shirreffs appreciated.
“They were with her win or lose,” he said.
Blame benefited by a smoother trip than Zenyatta and by racing over his home track. He won the Clark Handicap here last fall, and this summer won the Stephen Foster Handicap. The Classic had been the year-end goal for trainer Al Stall Jr. since the Clark, and he raced Blame judiciously all year to point for this moment. Blame had won 3 of 4 starts this year, including the Whitney and the Stephen Foster, both Grade 1 races.
“It’s one of those rare things where everything comes together once,” Stall said, “but obviously that’s what it takes to win a race of this magnitude.”
The victory was the biggest of his career for Stall, 48, a native of New Orleans who is based there in the winter and in Kentucky the rest of the year.
Garrett Gomez, who rode Blame, said he had a “wonderful trip.”
“He broke running, and I found myself in a nice little pocket all by myself,” Gomez said. “He was traveling beautiful up the backside. It got a little tight at the quarter pole. I had to go around a couple of horses, then squeeze by Lookin At Lucky and the Godolphin horse,” he said, referring to Etched.
“He was absolutely marvelous today,” Gomez said.
This was the final career start for Blame, who will stand at stud at Claiborne, beginning next spring.
Gomez said he had “mixed emotions” over handing Zenyatta her first defeat.
“She’s been a great ambassador for the game,” Gomez said. “She’s an amazing racehorse. I wish she’d have won her 20th at someone else’s expense. But I’m proud to have beaten her.”
Zenyatta was the betting choice at even-money and was the sentimental choice as well. She received a wave of cheers and she walked over from the stable area to the paddock, doing her trademark strut. Though obviously on edge, she was a complete professional while being saddled and marched to the track with purpose, ignoring flashbulbs from cameras and the cheers that accompanied her through the tunnel to the track.
When introduced over the public-address system by Larry Collmus, she received a thunderous ovation, then headed to the starting gate, where destiny cruelly awaited.
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