Blame and Zenyatta fight out the finish of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)
(Photo : Leftatthegate)
BLAME (USA) (Arch - Liable)
One thing racing is not short of, is its ability to conjure emotion, even in the most practised minds. The Hancock family of Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, USA, are the most famous breeders in American history, and this story is about the latest edition to their stallion ranks, Blame, recent winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr.1). With darkening skies creating an almost surreal atmosphere, Blame and Zenyatta, arguably the best filly in American history, put on a show for the ages in the Classic, creating a mosaic of emotions that ran the gamut between sadness, and in the end, unbridled admiration.
In what might’ve been her greatest performance, Gerry and Anne Moss’ Zenyatta’s gallant quest for an unprecedented 20-20 record fell a head short, as the great mare was defeated not only by a great horse Blame, but in some ways by the ghosts of Arthur B Hancock, and Arthur “Bull” Hancock Jnr, on the 100th anniversary of their own dominant breeding enterprise, Claiborne, which for many years epitomised the rich and colourful tradition of Kentucky’s bluegrass.
That is why Bull’s son, Claiborne’s President Seth Hancock, stood on the racetrack motionless and speechless following the race, oblivious to the eerie hush that engulfed Churchill Downs and the ensuing ovation for Zenyatta upon her return.
Hancock could only come up with one word to express his emotions: “Indescribable. Indescribable” Even then, the quaver in his voice made that one word difficult to get out, as he stared off in the distance, transfixed by the storied chapter he and his racing partner Adele Dilschneider, trainer Al Stall Jnr, and, course, Blame had just added to the Claiborne legacy. Just like the Derby gods, it’s almost like it was meant to be offered to Seth.
The cheers grew to a feverish pitch when Zenyatta, who had dropped 16¼ lengths off the pace and appeared hopelessly beaten, found a seam after turning for home and began devouring ground with enormous strides. She blew by one horse after another, and it looked as if she was going to pull off another miracle finish. But this time it was different. The only horse who stood between her and an undefeated career was Blame, the leading older horse in the country, who had burst clear of the field inside the eighth pole. She would have run down Switch or St. Trinians or Rinterval, her vanquished foes of this year, but not the leading older horse in the country on a track over which he has been dominant.
Zenyatta kept coming. Her magnificent stride and her determination were things of beauty to watch. Blame dug in as the Zenyatta express came barrelling down on him. The roar from the grandstand was deafening, with the majority of fans pleading for Zenyatta to get up. But this time it was not meant to be. For the first time in her career, the mighty Zenyatta’s powerful closing rush came up inches short.
If the racing gods Hancock alluded to had an agenda other than a Zenyatta victory, it would be to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Claiborne at Kentucky’s most historic equine site in the year of the movie “Secretariat”, who stood at Claiborne until his premature death in 1989. And there was no more appropriate horse to serve as the catalyst for that celebration of Claiborne blood coursing through his veins.
In an era when some stallions are bred up to 200 times a year, some shuttling back and forth between Northern and Southern hemispheres, Hancock refused to bend that far, feeling it would compromise the integrity of Claiborne Farm, which has been operating the old fashioned way under three generations of the Hancock family. As a result, the farm that once housed the greatest stallions in the world, is no longer quite the force it was, with the big-name stallions prospects going elsewhere. But Hancock knew Blame could become the stallion to help Claiborne return to prominence, enticing breeders who prefer quality over quantity and the long-term welfare of the horse.
Dilschneider has played a major role in maintaining the quality at Claiborne, through her partnership with the Hancocks. Her most significant contribution was elbowing Seth in the ribs at the 1996 Keeneland July Sale, to get him to up his bid to $710,000 for a yearling by Kris S.out of the Danzig mare Aurora, later to be named Arch. Nobody knew just how providential that final bid would become, as Arch turned out to be Blame’s sire.
“It was Adele who stepped in and perpetuated all this, partnering with Seth”, said Stall. “She said this is Blame’s final work and she wants to be here for it”. “Who can sleep?” Dilschnedier said. “I’m still pinching myself. I’ve been involved with the Hancock family for years, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Seth. How many family-owned and operated farms are there left? That’s the beauty of this. You can’t let it slip away. And they won’t. With Claiborne, the horse always comes first”. As for her elbow into Hancock’s ribs, she said, “It worked. That was our first big one together, and it has led to this moment”.