08/09/2010 2:05PM

Plan working perfectly for Blame

Tom Keyser
Blame (left) runs down Quality Road to with the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Blame’s arrival at the top of the handicap division has been as a result of the successful implementation, thus far, of a plan put in place by his connections last December.

Following Blame’s victory in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27, owners Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider and trainer Al Stall sat down to map out a plan for the colt’s 4-year-old season that would hopefully culminate with a return trip to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6.

The plan included a lengthy layoff that would have Blame fresh, fit, and dangerous for a five-race campaign over the final seven months of the year. There was a relatively easy race in May, followed by Grade 1 tries in the Stephen Foster and Whitney Handicap. Blame won all three, beginning with the William Donald Schaefer at Pimlico on May 15, the Stephen Foster at Churchill on June 12, and Saturday’s $750,000 Whitney Handicap in which he ran down 1-2 favorite Quality Road to win by a head.

About the only alteration to the plan was the Schaefer over the Alysheba at Churchill Downs on May 1. Blame missed that race due to some missed training time during the winter at Fair Grounds, where the track could most politely be described as inconsistent.

“It’s almost hard to believe that you could sit there Dec. 1 and say let’s freshen up, let’s catch an easy race in the spring, let’s catch the Foster, let’s catch the Whitney,” Stall said Sunday morning outside his Saratoga barn. “Yet here we are. That’s almost impossible.”

There are still two more steps to go for Blame’s plan to be fully successful. The next step will be the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 2, where Blame will get to run 1 1/4 miles for the first time. That will be followed by the Classic, also at 1 1/4 miles.

As effective has Blame has been at 1 1/8 miles – he is 5 for 6 at the distance – Stall is confident that 1 1/4 miles will fit the horse even better.

“It looks like that’s well within his grasp,” Stall said. “He’ll only be a few lengths out of it, he can lay much closer. He won’t be a victim of pace and things like that.”

In the Classic, Blame will likely face Zenyatta, last year’s BC Classic winner who ran her record to 18 for 18 with a win in Saturday’s Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

“If she’s there – which I’m sure she will be – I would have no idea what would happen,” Stall said. “We’ll show up, and she’ll show up. We might be a little bit ahead of her, we might not be. It looks like she’s starting to lay a little closer.”

Stall said Blame would remain in Saratoga for another two to three weeks before shipping to Keeneland, where he trained before the Whitney. Blame would likely ship to Belmont Park a few days before the Gold Cup.

While Blame is headed to the Gold Cup, Whitney runner-up Quality Road will stick to his connections’ plan of running back in the Woodward here Sept. 4. Musket Man, third in the Whitney, also is likely for the Woodward as is fifth-place finisher Mine That Bird.