Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame unleashed a furious drive in the final eighth of a mile to surge past favored Battle Plan by three-quarters of a length to win the 29th running of the $671,700 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) for 3-year-olds and up on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Al Stall Jr. and ridden by Garrett Gomez, Blame ran the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.37, the second-fastest clocking at the distance of the 29-day-old meet, bettered only by Rachel Alexandra’s 1:48.78 clocking earlier Saturday in the Fleur de Lis. The victory, the seventh in 10 starts for the 4-year-old homebred son of Arch, was worth $391,467 and raised Blame’s bankroll to $1,068,214.
Battle Plan, ridden by Javier Castellano, quickly assumed command in the run past the finish line the first time while Blame was forced to go four wide into the first turn. Battle Plan cut out fractions of :24.50 and :48.72 with General Quarters, ridden by Alex Solis, in closest pursuit.
Gomez had Blame in sixth place, racing to the outside of Arson Squad in the run down the backstretch. Battle Plan led the field through six furlongs in 1:12.63 as the field began to close in, but leaving the far turn Battle Plan hit another gear and by midstretch was four lengths in front with only Blame making a sustained charge.
The charge was enough to hit the front inside the final 50 yards to give Blame his fourth consecutive graded stakes victory and first Grade I triumph. Blame, winner of the Clark Handicap (GII) last fall, becomes the first horse to win the Foster the following spring from a Clark triumph since Saint Liam in 2004-05 and fourth overall. Others to do it were Hopeful Word in 1985-86 and No Marker in 1989-90.
As the second choice in the field of 11 and carrying co-highweight of 120 pounds, Blame returned $9.80, $4.20 and $3. Battle Plan, carrying 119 pounds, returned $3.40 and $3.20 with General Quarters (120 pounds), finishing another 2 ¾ lengths back, paying $4 to show.
Completing the field in order were Giant Oak, Demarcation, Arson Squad, A.U. Miner, Duke of Mischief, Honest Man, defending race champion Macho Again and No Advantage.
The Stephen Foster trophy was presented by Hall of Fame rider Pat Day, winner of the 1992 Kentucky Derby on Lil E. Tee and the all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs.
Racing resumes Sunday with a 10-race card that begins with a 12:45 p.m. (EDT) post time.
STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP QUOTES
GARRETT GOMEZ (jockey, BLAME, winner): “I was wide going through both turns. I tried to use him a little to try and get over in the first turn and as far as I could get was four wide. I didn’t want to take him back any further. My main concern was trying to come home off that pace. That’s what you’re always scared of and I think the farther the better with this horse. He does everything good. I was impressed with him when I rode him as a young horse. He’s coming around; he’s gotten a little more seasoning. He’s a true professional and a pleasure to be around. I’ll let him answer how good he can be.”
AL STALL, JR. (trainer, BLAME, winner): “It set up just like everybody thought. Battle Plan was going out there comfortably … and (Blame) got wide a little bit because of our post (11). But he overcame. He can knock those :12 and change (fractions) all day long and that should suit us down the road. He’s a big, sound horse, and knock on wood, we haven’t had any issues with him so far. This win is right up there with winning the Early Times (Turf Classic) and the Super Derby, for sure. We’ll look at the Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club (Gold Cup) – something like that – with the ultimate goal being the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic (on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs). That’s why we gave him the six months off just to have a fresh horse the second half of the season, which we’re here now. I love when a plan comes together, which is very rare in horse racing. He’s a horse that is full of ability and full of desire, and he just ran them down.”
JAVIER CASTELLANO (jockey, BATTLE PLAN, second): “I’m very happy with him today. The fractions were good today. He settled down the speed. I’m very happy with him but unfortunately he was second best today.”
TODD PLETCHER (trainer, BATTLE PLAN, second): “We got a perfect trip which was the trip we were hoping for. He dug in and fought hard. He was second best. It was his first time over the racetrack and I thought it was a great effort.”
ALEX SOLIS (jockey, GENERAL QUARTERS, third): “I had a great trip, no excuses. The other horses were just better today. (Owner/trainer) Mr. (Tom) McCarthy wanted me to sit right off the leaders and wait.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN (jockey, GIANT OAK, fourth): “I had a great trip. I thought he really tried hard the whole way. He ran a phenomenal race.”
CHRIS BLOCK (trainer, GIANT OAK, fourth): “He ran good and he ran hard. He’s just probably a touch under these guys. We were hoping to be third today, honestly, and just come up short. But what are you going to do running against these kind of horses? He ran his heart out.”