09/30/2010 4:20PM

Blame streaking into Gold Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Blame (left) wins the Whitney by a head over Quality Road for his fifth straight victory.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The seven trainers opposing Blame in Saturday’s $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup could only hope the nasty weather that hit the New York Metropolitan area on Thursday lasted another day. For if Blame couldn’t get to Belmont Park, then he certainly couldn’t run.

Heavy rain and strong winds forced the cancellation not only of Thursday’s races here but of a Tex Sutton flight scheduled to bring Blame – and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational favorite Paddy O’ Prado – from Lexington, Ky., to New York. The plane was rescheduled for Friday morning. Provided it got here, that might seal the fate for the other seven Gold Cup runners.

UPDATE: Blame arrives in New York for Jockey Club Gold Cup

The Gold Cup is the centerpiece of an 11-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. and includes four other Grade 1 races – the Joe Hirsch at 1 1/2 miles on turf, the $500,000 Flower Bowl at 1 1/4 miles for females on turf, the $350,000 Beldame for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on dirt; and the $350,000 Vosburgh at six furlongs on dirt. The Flower Bowl, Beldame, Joe Hirsch, and Gold Cup comprise an all-stakes pick-four with a guaranteed pool of $500,000. There is a baseball hat giveaway with each paid admission. The forecast for Saturday is for dry conditions with temperatures in the low 60’s.

Trainer Al Stall, whose own flight got him to New York on Thursday, wasn’t overly concerned with the one-day delay in his horse’s arrival. The horse was scheduled to train over the Polytrack at Keeneland on Friday rather than what would likely be a sea of slop at Belmont. Stall said Blame would jog at Belmont on Saturday morning.

Blame brings a five-race winning streak into the Jockey Club Gold Cup, one that includes Grade 1 victories this year in the Stephen Foster and Whitney handicaps. Now, Blame gets to stretch out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time, a distance at which Stall thinks Blame might excel.

“Everything he has done and factor in his pedigree and his style I think points to a mile and a quarter,” said Stall, who is looking at this race as a stepping-stone to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. “We’ve been looking forward to a mile and a quarter since last year actually.”

Stall believes Blame can adapt to any pace scenario that presents itself in the Gold Cup. While Haynesfield looks like the primary speed, Rail Trip, making his first start on dirt and first in three months is likely to lay close as well.

“If it’s a slow pace he’ll be right on top of it,” said Stall, whose horse will break from post 2 under Garrett Gomez. “If they go really fast he doesn’t have to go anywhere near it.”

Overall, Stall is extremely confident heading into the race.

“The closer I get to the race usually I get nervous,” Stall said. “With him I get a little more relaxed.”

Rail Trip may be the wild card in the Gold Cup. While racing on the synthetic surfaces in Southern California, Rail Trip won 8 of 12 starts, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in 2009. In July, he was transferred to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who has been impressed with his colt’s training the last month.

“He was training good at Saratoga towards the end, and he’s picked that up at Aqueduct,” Dutrow said. “It’s just a matter if he likes [Belmont]. It certainly seems like he’s fit enough. He hasn’t got tired from those fast breezes we gave him.”

Rail Trip will wear an aluminum pad on his right front foot to protect the bottom part, known as the frog, which bothered the horse in mid-August at Saratoga.

Rail Trip, who will be ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, will likely find himself stalking Haynesfield in the early stages of the Gold Cup.

“If there’s no speed in the race, I’m sure he’s going to be forwardly placed,” Dutrow said.

Haynesfield, who is 4 for 5 at Belmont, is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Whitney at Saratoga. But that race can be dismissed, as the New York-bred broke through the gate before the official start of the race and did not run a jump when the gates opened for real.

Mythical Power, second to Quality Road in the Woodward, has a bit of speed as well. Trainer Bob Baffert did enter Mythical Power in Sunday’s Grade 2 Kelso here going a one-turn mile on dirt to give himself a second option. Baffert said Thursday he was leaning toward keeping him in the Gold Cup.

In three of the last four years, a 3-year-old has won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Fly Down is the only 3-year-old entered this year, and he has license to run well. Fly Down, coming off a heartbreaking nose loss to Afleet Express in the Travers, won the Dwyer Stakes and was second in the Belmont over this track.

Last Saturday, Fly Down worked a sensational half-mile in 46.40 seconds over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track, a move exercise rider Maxine Correa told trainer Nick Zito “was as good as any work we’ve ever had,” said Zito, who in 2000 won the Gold Cup with the 3-year-old Albert the Great.

Since the Travers, Fly Down was purchased privately by Mitaab bin Abudullah of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Family from Richard Pell.

Hold Me Back has recorded all four of his wins on synthetic tracks but did run second in the 2009 Travers. Dry Martini won the Suburban here last year at 1 1/4 miles, but has lost seven starts since, the last two on turf. Tranquil Manner was third to Quality Road in the Whitney.