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AUGUST 12, 2010

by James Scully

Blame Whitney: Once he had the favorite in his sights, BLAME (Arch) would not be denied the Whitney Invitational H. (G1). He came off the rail entering the stretch and went after Quality Road (Elusive Quality) in the final furlong, getting up late for a head victory that places him on top of the older horse division. Everything is setting up perfectly for the four-year-old.

Expertly handled by Al Stall Jr., Blame was making only his third start of the season on Saturday and figures to arrive at Churchill Downs for the November 7 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) in top shape, prepping once more in the October 2 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park. That will give him a race at the 1 1/4-mile Classic distance, and the Claiborne Farm co-owned colt will bring a home-field advantage into the Breeders' Cup, having garnered both the Stephen Foster H. (G1) and Clark H. (G1) under the Twin Spires.

His winning ways were evident, but I didn't think Blame was fast enough to handle Quality Road in the Whitney. Couldn't have been more wrong. The improving colt netted a career-best 108 BRIS Speed rating while displaying the tenacity that has enabled to compile eight victories in 11 starts, including five straight. If he's in range turning for home, Blame finds a way to get up in time.

Silver lining: After winning his first three starts this year in convincing fashion, QUALITY ROAD came up a little short in the Whitney. The result stung his supporters, but it was probably the best thing for Thoroughbred racing fans as it sets the table for an exciting rematch in the Classic.

And Quality Road will have the opportunity for redemption in the Breeders' Cup.

The outcome raised some suspicions about his ability at longer distances -- he dropped both starts at 10 furlongs last year -- but I'll take the "glass half-full" approach toward his chances later this year.

Conditions weren't ideal on Saturday for the four-year-old colt, who found himself on a short lead on a tedious pace, and he didn't receive the best ride from John Velazquez, who could've let his mount run early as the lone speed. And Quality Road hadn't been tested all year. The Whitney could toughen him up for his final two starts this season.

He'll look to bounce back in the nine-furlong Woodward S. (G1) on September 4.

Z perseveres: It got tight at the finish, but ZENYATTA (Street Cry [Ire]) kept her winning ways intact in the Clement L. Hirsch S. (G1). The six-year-old mare survived a close call in last year's event, getting up in the final jumps to beat the unheralded Anabaa's Creation (Ire) (Anabaa), and she held off the Rinterval (Ire) (Desert Prince [Ire]) by a neck on Saturday. Rinterval had finished first only once in her previous 20 starts, capturing the Wintergreen S. at Turfway Park earlier this year.

Polytrack isn't Zenyatta's best surface, but she got the victory and remains on course for her Classic title defense.

The October 2 Beldame S. (G1) at Belmont Park remains an option for her final Breeders' Cup prep -- and what a treat it would be for her fans on the East Coast -- but I think Saturday's scare eliminated any possibility of her leaving California next time. The October 2 Zenyatta S. (G1) will provide the path of least resistance and that's been the modus operandi for her connections all year.

As long as she makes it to Churchill Downs in early November, it doesn't matter where she runs beforehand.

Lucky rules: LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) put the hammer lock on divisional honors with an impressive four-length victory in the Haskell Invitational (G1), looking like a man among boys in the deep race at Monmouth Park. The Bob Baffert-trained colt received a career-best 107 BRIS Speed rating and firmly placed himself among the discussion of the top male horses in training, along with Blame and Quality Road.

He came down with a slight fever afterward and won't run in the August 28 Travers S. (G1), leaving the 1 1/4-mile event at the Spa as a wide-open affair that figures to attract a large field. There are about 10 three-year-olds competing for second-best honors in the division.

Eye opener: MAJESTICPERFECTION (Harlan's Holiday) made a seamless transition to the big-time in Sunday's A.G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) at Saratoga, winning easily by 2 3/4 lengths under regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the four-year-old has come a long way since breaking his maiden at Fair Grounds on February 14.

After reeling off a couple of allowance scores at Oaklawn and Churchill Downs, Majesticperfection captured the June 25 Iowa Sprint H. at Prairie Meadows by 4 3/4 lengths, stopping the teletimer in a track record 1:07.24 for six furlongs. He knocked off a solid rival that evening, Churchill Downs S. (G2) winner Atta Boy Roy (Tribunal), but faced a much deeper group in the Vanderbilt that included Big Drama (Montbrook), Gayego (Gilded Time) and Bribon (Fr) (Mark of Esteem [Ire]). They were no match for the up-and-coming colt, who has notched BRIS Speed ratings of 112 in his last two starts.

Majesticperfection is as exciting as they come in the sprint ranks.

Tiger strikes: For the second year in a row, the Bing Crosby S. (G1) at Del Mar went to a three-year-old. And just like Zensational last year, SMILING TIGER (Hold That Tiger) is blossoming into one of the best sprinters out West.

Unlike Zensational, who knocked off questionable rivals when recording wins in the Bing Crosby, Pat O' Brien S. (G1) and Triple Bend H. (G1), Smiling Tiger can hang his hat on the opposition he's beating. The chestnut registered his first stakes victory in the Lazaro Barrera Memorial S. (G3) two back, comfortably knocking off Concord Point (Tapit), who has really made a name for himself with victories in the Iowa Derby (G3) and West Virginia Derby (G2) since then. In the six-furlong Bing Crosby, Smiling Tiger went up against Grade 1 winner and 3-5 favorite Cost of Freedom (Cee's Tizzy) as well as E Z's Gentleman (Yankee Gentleman), who entered on the upswing for Baffert following his dominant 3 1/4-length score in the Triple Bend.

Smiling Tiger ran Cost of Freedom into submission from the start and easily held off the late runners. The Jeff Bonde-trained colt earned a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating and is eligible to keep moving forward off the Bing Crosby.

Turf Festival: GIO PONTI (Tale of the Cat) snapped a five-race skid with his victory in the July 10 Man o' War S. (G1), but the way he had to work for a neck decision over Mission Approved (With Approval), who was running in a $40,000 claimer at Delaware Park two starts previously, was disconcerting. The five-year-old remains the horse to beat when he defends his title in the August 21 Arlington Million (G1) -- he doesn't have much top-class competition in the division.

Trainer Dale Romans is pointing the nation's best turf sophomore, PADDY O' PRADO (El Prado [Ire]), toward the Secretariat S. (G1) for three-year-olds, but the Million is shaping up as the perfect opportunity to try older horses. The Usual Q. T. (Unusual Suspect), who looks heads and shoulders above the California turf males following his sharp two-length score in the Eddie Read S. (G1), is slated to stay at home for the Pacific Classic (G1) on Polytrack. United Nations S. (G1) hero Chinchon (Ire) (Marju) won't ship back from France, and 2009 Secretariat victor Take the Points (Even the Score), who exits a second in the United Nations, is temporarily laid up with an injury.

Third in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Paddy O' Prado is proving to be a beast on turf, easily winning the Virginia Derby (G2) and Colonial Turf Cup (G2) in his last two starts. He'll face stiffer competition if he opts for the Million instead of the Secretariat, but Gio Ponti is likely the only one to fear. And last year's turf champion has never looked more vulnerable.

Gio Ponti hasn't thrown in any clunkers this year, finishing second in the Manhattan H. (G1) and fourth in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) prior to the Man o' War, but he hasn't been the same performer who reeled off four straight Grade 1 tallies and finished an excellent second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic last season.

Next: I'll post my next Thoroughbred Beat in two weeks.


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