Taking Stock: Blame Game Is On

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Mucho | Sarah Andrew

By Sid Fernando

Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider’s Mucho (Blame–Extent, by Pulpit), a colt bred to be a two-turn 3-year-old, has already made himself known at two after an ultra-impressive maiden win over six furlongs at Saratoga last Saturday. The ‘TDN Rising Star’ won his second start by almost 10 lengths in 1:10.19, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to extrapolate that he’ll get better as the distances increase. His win symbolizes a turnaround in the fortunes of Blame, too.

However, the Claiborne brain trust always had faith in Blame and in fact doubled down on him with Mucho, so to speak. Mucho is inbred closely, at 3×3, to Bound (Nijinsky–Special, by Forli) on the tail-female line through her daughters Limit (Cox’s Ridge) and Liable (Seeking the Gold). Bound is Blame’s second dam–he is out of Liable–and the third dam of Mucho, as Limit is the dam of Extent.

Claiborne’s president Walker Hancock and stallion seasons and bloodstock manager Bernie Sams were at the Fasig-Tipton sale this week and discussed this interesting mating, Blame’s big year, and Claiborne’s philosophies.

“It’s obviously just a special family for us,” Hancock said of Mucho, who is a sixth-generation descendant of Rough Shod II, a broodmare imported to the U.S. by Hancock’s grandfather, Arthur “Bull” Hancock, Jr. “Dad [Seth] loves the family, and I think he thought, ‘Let’s see what happens if you double up on it.’ It’s been successful so far. You know his full-sister [Width] won first-time out here [at Saratoga] in a ‘Rising Star’ performance and we thought we’d go back to see if we could get a colt out of her on the same cross. And we did, so here we are. You give things a try here and there, and three [by three inbreeding] would probably be the closest we’d go. We’re not afraid to take a chance and see what we can get. It’s just such a good family, and we tried to capitalize on it.”

Aside from Blame, it’s a family particularly noted for three outstanding Northern Dancer stallions, two of which were champions. Bound is a three-quarter sister to Nureyev, who was disqualified from first in the 2000 Guineas but made his mark as a stallion at Walmac International; and she’s a half-sister to Fairy Bridge, who produced the iconic sire and Irish 2000 Guineas winner Sadler’s Wells and his once-raced and unplaced brother Fairy King, both of which stood at Coolmore. Claiborne bred Thong, Special, Nureyev, and Fairy Bridge alone and Bound in partnership with William Haggin Perry’s The Gamely Corporation –a longtime partner for Claiborne.

Because three-quarter brothers Sadler’s Wells and Nureyev get crossed quite a bit in international pedigrees, particularly as Sadler’s Wells is a sire of sires and Nureyev appears mostly in the internal parts of pedigrees, Special gets duplicated quite a bit (though not on the tail-female line). To date, there are more than 100 G1 winners with Special or her descendants doubled up, and they include such as Cracksman (5×5 Special), Enable (3×2 Sadler’s Wells), Archipenko (4×2 Special), Camelot (4×5 Special), El Condor Pasa (4×4 Special and 5x4x5 Thong), Workforce (5×4 Special), and Madame Chiang (3x5x4 Special). Based on this success, inbreeding to Special’s daughter Bound makes sense, and Claiborne and Mrs. Dilschneider–who has assumed the partnership role once occupied by Perry and later by his widow Nicole Perry Gorman–have also bred Mucho’s Glll-winning half-sister Size (First Samurai) to Blame as well. Those foals–yearling and weanling colts–are inbred 3×4 to Bound.

Blame

Blame (Arch) was bred and raced by Claiborne and Mrs. Dilschneider and won nine of 13 starts, including the Gl Breeders’ Cup Classic over Zenyatta, and earned $4,368,214. After starting out at stud for $35,000 live foal–the co-most expensive fee for a new horse in North America in 2011, along with Lookin At Lucky and Quality Road–Blame’s fee had dropped to $12,500 this spring despite siring last summer’s G1 Prix de Diane winner Senga.

In hindsight, $12,500 was an incredible bargain, as similar as catching Curlin at $25,000, Scat Daddy at $10,000, and Ghostzapper at $20,000 after those horses had fallen to their nadirs from loftier initial fees. Blame is represented by 10 black-type winners this year, five of them graded winners, and he sits second behind Quality Road ($70,000 fee in ’18) for fifth-year sires, ahead of such as Kantharos ($15,000), Lookin At Lucky ($17,500), Munnings ($25,000), Super Saver ($35,000), and Temple City ($15,000).

All told, he’s the sire of 22 black-type winners to date, and aside from Senga at the highest level, he’s also represented by Fault, who won the Gl Santa Margarita S. at nine furlongs on the dirt at Santa Anita in March after being claimed for $50,000 from a turf race at Churchill a year ago. The Claiborne-bred Fault’s pedigree also includes a double of the Rough Shod family–her broodmare sire Horse Chestnut (SAf) is a grandson of Sadler’s Wells–and she had sold for $120,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September sale. Her fall from grace as a potential stakes prospect to her redemption from claimer to Grade l winner is also very much a part of Blame’s history and comeback this year.

“He only bred 55 mares last year,” Sams said. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. He was $25,000 last year. Seth [Hancock] said, ‘What do we have to do to get 100 mares to him?’ Make it $12,500 [I said]. He said, ‘Do it.’ We bred 118 or 119 mares to him this spring, but we could have bred 200. When they started running [this year], game on. Twelve-five will be a thing of the past. If he got lucky with Mucho or one of the others out there, you know, if he ended up with a Breeders’ Cup winner…”

Sams said that Senga’s French classic win, ironically, didn’t move the needle, even though it had been quite a while since an American-based sire was represented by a major European Derby or Oaks winner. “That’s what shows you how much Central Kentucky people pay attention to European racing,” Sams said. “The Blames had sold well, some had run, some hadn’t, you had Senga with the Group 1, but it wasn’t enough for the guys around here. They wanted it all in front of them, and if it’s not there in front of them, they’ll walk away. The commercial part of the deal is brutal.”

Sams then gestured to the back walking ring at the sales pavilion to make his point. “Everybody’s very focused on this,” he said, referencing the selling. “They don’t want to own a set of silks. They don’t want to pay a trainer.”

In other words, people don’t breed to race anymore in the numbers that they once did, and in that, he’s right. Owner/breeders tend to be more patient with their horses, and the handling of Blame as a racehorse is an example of just that. He won once from two starts at two, was a Grade II winner at three, and blossomed into a champion and multiple Grade I winner at four. Rushing him to make the Classics may have ruined him.

Hancock and Sams said that it could have been a different commercial story for Blame but for a win here or there. First-crop runner March, Hancock noted, won the GIII Bay Shore S. and the GII Woody Stephens S. on dirt and was beaten only a head in the Gl Hollywood Derby on the turf, and the promising first-crop runner Far From Over won the GIII Withers S. while on the Classics trail before being felled by injury.

“If Far From Over wins the Wood, forget the turf stuff, game on,” Sams said.

“We believed in the horse and that’s why we kept supporting him because he was so close,” Hancock said. “I remember a conversation I had with my dad just last summer. He said he could see Blame being the next Curlin. We always expected him to succeed, and he is now busting through, only just a couple of years later than we anticipated.”

Now, horses like Mucho and others will keep the anticipation building for Blame.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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