SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Blame's ascension through the ranks of the older horse division reached a climax Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 36,658 at Saratoga when he outfinished heavily favored Quality Road to win the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap by a head.
It was the fifth consecutive victory for Blame, seventh from his last eight starts, and his third in as many outs this year. He added the Whitney to the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in his last start, likely putting him atop the handicap division entering the fall.
"I think by far it's his best race, and my gut tells me there might be a little more in the tank," said Al Stall, who trains Blame for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.
The win earned Blame an automatic berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs as part of the Breeders' Cup Win and You're In program.
The loss was the first of the year for Quality Road, who had set a track record winning the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February and was coming off a win in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in May.
"We had a comfortable trip, set reasonable fractions, and just got ran down the last jump," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Quality Road.
Quality Road, as expected, made the lead under John Velazquez. He ran an opening quarter of 24.41 seconds and a half-mile in 48.06, with Musket Man applying mild pressure. Haynesfield, who had broken through the starting gate before the start of the race, was chasing those two from third.
The stretch-running Blame, meanwhile, was a surprisingly close fourth, about four lengths off the early lead under Garrett Gomez.
"He had me a little confused, because he was so useful early on in the race," Gomez said. "I wondered whether to go ahead and take a long hold of him or go ahead and let him do what he was doing. I had to play with him back and forth."
"He was never grabbing into the bridle, which was strange for him," Velazquez said.
Approaching the quarter pole, Gomez took Blame four wide for the stretch run. He crept up alongside a drifting Quality Road inside the sixteenth pole and nailed him about two jumps from the wire, without feeling the leather of Gomez's whip.
"I moved up at the three-eighths pole, I felt pretty confident then," Gomez said. "I was just biding my time until we turned for home. I just didn't want to sit too long because I know he's got a long consistent run that just keeps coming, so I wanted to make sure when we turned for home I did have him placed into a long stride like he has and I thought I could wear [Quality Road] down."
Blame, a son of Arch, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.88 and returned $8.80 as the second choice. Quality Road was the 1-2 favorite. He finished second by 1 3/4 lengths over Musket Man, who was followed in the order of finish by Haynesfield, Mine That Bird, and Jardim.
Stall said Blame would have one more start before the Breeders' Cup Classic but wasn't sure if that race would come in the Woodward here on Sept. 4, the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 2, or the Hawthorne Gold Cup on the same day.