11/01/2010 3:56PM

Blame's schedule right on target

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Barbara D. Livingston
Blame, with jockey Garrett Gomez riding, works a half-mile Monday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It was nearly a year ago, shortly after Blame ended his 2009 campaign with a victory in the Clark Handicap here at Churchill Downs, that trainer Al Stall Jr. mapped out a 2010 schedule with one primary goal, getting to the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a chance to be Horse of the Year.

So far, so good. Blame is in the mix for a year-end title, with Saturday’s $5 million Classic, the last of 14 races to be run on Friday and Saturday at Churchill, seemingly destined to be the title-decider. All the acknowledged leaders for Horse of the Year – led by the unbeaten Zenyatta – are scheduled to run in the Classic.

“The Classic field is always pretty good. Throw Zenyatta in, and that takes it up another level,” Stall said Monday morning. “Us, Quality Road, the best 3-year-old, Lookin At Lucky, and Haynesfield, who’s been training as well as you could train. It’s very deep.”

It was a bittersweet morning for those connected to Blame. While they are looking forward to the Classic, it will be the final start of his career before he goes to stud at Claiborne Farm, which owns Blame along with Adele Dilschneider. So, his workout on Monday, a half-mile under jockey Garrett Gomez that Daily Racing Form clocked in 49.72 seconds, was the final breeze of his career. Among those in attendance for the drill was Dell Hancock, whose family owns Claiborne.

“That’s why Dell was here. We all got a bit misty,” Stall said.

Blame worked early in the morning, under the lights that will be used for the latter half of Friday’s card, and likely will need to be used Saturday, being as post time for the Classic is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Eastern time, six minutes after local sundown.

“As long as everything keeps going right, I’m fine with everything,” Stall said.

Blame began to blossom late last year, when he won 4 of his last 5 starts, including the Clark. He was given a lengthy break over the winter, and has made just four, well-spaced starts this year. He won the first three, most notably the Stephen Foster here in June and the Whitney at Saratoga in August, before finishing second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in his last start.

Other than beginning the year maybe two weeks later than originally planned, Stall has hit every intended mark with Blame.

“It’s very gratifying to have things work out,” Stall said. “It does happen once in a while.”

Blame certainly has the home-field advantage at Churchill Downs, where he has won 3 times in 4 starts, each win coming at a mile or farther. This will be the seventh time that Churchill has played host to the Breeders’ Cup, which is being held for the 27th time. Churchill will also play host in 2011, mirroring the schedule with Santa Anita in 2008-09.

The only remaining mystery regarding the composition of the Classic field centered on Gio Ponti, who was pre-entered last week in both the Classic and the Mile. As of Monday afternoon, there was still no announced decision by owner Shane Ryan on which race he would compete. If Gio Ponti were to run in the Classic, he would need a new jockey, because Ramon Dominguez is committed to Haynesfield. Dominguez retains the mount on Gio Ponti if he goes in the Mile. Gio Ponti was scheduled to fly to Kentucky from New York on Tuesday.

Zenyatta and Lookin At Lucky were scheduled to fly to Kentucky from California early Tuesday morning and be here by midday. Both had easy days at Hollywood Park on Monday, with Zenyatta jogging on the dirt training track, and Lookin At Lucky merely walking the shed row at trainer Bob Baffert’s barn following his final workout on Sunday.

Etched was scheduled to be sent by van from Saratoga to Churchill, his arrival set for Wednesday morning. All horses in Saturday’s races must be on the grounds by noon Wednesday, per Breeders’ Cup regulations.

Musket Man was scheduled to arrive Tuesday following an overnight van ride from Monmouth Park. Rajiv Maragh has picked up the mount on Musket Man, replacing Eibar Coa.

The week began with clear, chilly conditions at Churchill Downs, and that is expected to be the norm most of the week. It was in the low 40s during training hours Monday morning, with much of the training done under the lights, with sunrise not until approximately 7:30 a.m. locally. The high Monday was forecast for 61 degrees, according to Weather.com.

The forecast is for colder temperatures for Friday and Saturday, with a 30-percent chance of showers on Friday, when the range of temperatures is predicted to be between a high of 46 and a low of 32. Saturday’s high is only predicted to be 49 degrees, with a low of 31, but, as of now, it is expected to be dry.