08/04/2010 3:34PM

Blame set to challenge Quality Road in Saratoga's Whitney

Barbara D. Livingston
Blame prepares for a start in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – He has won six of his last seven starts, including the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. But just how good Blame is may not be known until Saturday, when he takes on Quality Road in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

With impressive Grade 1 victories in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February and the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont, Quality Road has established himself as the top older male horse in the country. Quality Road drew post 3 and was installed as the 2-5 morning-line favorite for the Whitney by New York Racing Association linemaker Eric Donovan.

The winner of the Whitney earns an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 as part of the Breeders’ Cup’s Win and You’re In program.

Blame is 2 for 2 this year, winning the William Donald Schaefer Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day before running down Battle Plan to win the Stephen Foster at Churchill on June 12. Blame is listed as the 4-1 second choice on the morning line, and will break fro post 2 under Garrett Gomez.

“I think my horse is ready now,” trainer Al Stall said this week. “We gave him a tremendous break during the winter, we let him mature, let his pedigree take over, let him develop on his own, brought him back meticulously. Here’s his third time back off an extended layoff, we feel like we’re ready. It’s time to catch the best horse in the country when we’re at the top of our game also.”

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Quality Road, said this week that he has a tremendous amount of respect for Blame,

“The race that really caught my attention was actually the Super Derby when he lost to Regal Ransom after Regal Ransom had everything his own way, he was still getting to him at the end,” Pletcher said. “He’s come back since then, won the Clark and the Stephen Foster so he’s obviously a top-class horse and we’re going to be giving him weight in addition to that. But all that being said I wouldn’t be trading places with anyone.”

Quality Road will carry 126 pounds while Blame gets in with 121. Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, drew the rail and will break from the rail under Calvin Borel. This will be Mine That Bird’s first race on dirt in a year, or since he finished third in the West Virginia Derby.

Musket Man, who finished second to Quality Road in the Met Mile, was entered for the Whitney, though his connections have yet to commit to running. Eric Fein, owner of Musket Man, said Wednesday he and trainer Derek Ryan are “leaning toward running.”

It would Musket Man’s first start around two turns since he finished third to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness last May, two weeks after finishing third to Mine That Bird in the Derby.

“Our biggest decision was whether to keep him one turn or go two turns with him,” Fein said. “We’ve never been able to find out if he’s a better sprinter or a better distance horse.”

Fein said that with Musket Man getting nine pounds from Quality Road, “I got to take a shot.” If they skip the Whitney, Musket Man would train up to the Grade 1 Forego going seven furlongs here on Sept. 4.

Haynesfield, who has won his last four races, including the Grade 2 Suburban in his last start, tries Grade 1 competition for the first time. To many, he holds the key to the race in that he appears to be the only one with enough speed to keep Quality Road honest on the front end.

Jardim, a Brazilian-bred colt who appears overmatched, completes the field.

Franny Freud faces nine in Test

Franny Freud, winner of four consecutive races, including the Grade 1 Prioress in her last start, drew post 5 in a field of 10 3-year-old fillies entered to run in Saturday’s Grade 1, $250,000 Test Stakes at seven furlongs.

Franny Freud is 8 for 11 overall, with stakes wins on turf, synthetic, and dirt. She will carry high weight of 122 pounds, spotting four to six pounds to the field.

She will undoubtedly face the toughest field she has met to date, led by Pica Slew, who won has won her last three starts including the Grade 3 Azalea Stakes at Calder on July 10, Acorn winner Champagne d’Oro, Eight Belles Stakes winner Buckleupbuttercup, and the undefeated Belle of the Hall, who won the Jostle Stakes at Philadelphia Park in her last start.