01/18/2011 12:12AM

In head-to-head battle at the ballot box, Blame comes up short

Justin N. Lane
Blame narrowly beat Zenyatta in the BC Classic, but was nosed out for Horse of the Year.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Blame won the battle, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but lost the ultimate war when Zenyatta was named Horse of the Year at Monday night’s Eclipse Award ceremonies. Neither Blame’s trainer, Al Stall Jr., or owner, Claiborne Farm’s Seth Hancock, were surprised in the least by the announcement, they said.

“We’re not surprised by anything,” a gracious Stall said moments after the award ceremonies had concluded. “We did everything absolutely possible last year. We laid out a plan and executed it properly. We really couldn’t have done anything more other than maybe win them all, but I’m not sure even that would have made a difference.”

Blame, who was named champion older male on Monday, won four of his five starts in 2010. He began the season with a victory in Pimlico’s Grade 3 William Donald Schaefer, then followed with Grade 1 successes in both the Stephen Foster Handicap, despite a bad post and wide trip, and Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, where he upset then-division leader Quality Road. Blame's lone loss on the season was a second-place finish to Haynesfield in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

ECLIPSE AWARDS: List of winners, vote totals, and video clips from the ceremony

But it was Blame's gritty performance in the Classic, when he dug in tenaciously through the final hundred yards and held off the previously undefeated Zenyatta in the gloaming on Breeders’ Cup Day at Churchill Downs, that made it seem at the time as if he had sewn up Horse of the Year honors. That opinion was shared that evening not only by Stall and Hancock, but by many members of the media on hand to cover the event.

But it wasn’t to be. The groundswell of support that built for Zenyatta in the days and weeks that followed the Breeders' Cup brought even Blame’s camp to the reality that winning their only head-to-head battle with Zenyatta still might not have earned them a championship.

“One thing about the voting for the Eclipse Awards, there is no precedence, no guidelines for the voters,” said Stall. “A voter can like a horse because it’s a filly or because of its color, it doesn’t matter. One thing about Zenyatta, she had transcendent powers. She brought a lot of attention to our sport. We thought coming in tonight that she was a big favorite.”

Stall then applauded Zenyatta’s connections, Jerry and Ann Moss, for bringing her back to race again in 2010.

“Just think how different things might have been had she won Horse of the Year last year and been retired?” said Stall. “If she wasn’t here, tonight would have been very boring when it came to the Horse of the Year vote.”

Stall did take exception to a statement many people had made in the weeks leading up to the Eclipse Awards -- that Zenyatta will be remembered forever, but nobody will remember Blame.

“Her presence alone helped bring a lot of attention to our horse,” said Stall. “I think in four or five years, a lot of people will know who Blame is.”