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Nov 12, 2010

This was a great year to be a horse racing fan

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The major races have been run. The horses have either been retired or are being given a much deserved rest before starting all over again in 2011.

When 2010 began two thoroughbreds, 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Zenyatta, received the majority of the attention for the new year.

These were the horses who fans were eager to see race. The two females dominated everybody's thoughts. Would the two finally face each other on the track?

As we all know the top two horses from 2009 never got close to hooking up in a race. Zenyatta ventured out of California just once for the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Rachel Alexandra was kept away from her older rival, but traveled a bit more extensively,

Zenyatta continued her unbeaten streak through her first five starts of the year while Rachel was held back in some of her races and proved beatable in three of five starts.

Rachel never finished worst then second, but her connections decided to retire her after a second-place result in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga in August. She was scheduled to be bred to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.

Meanwhile, the older male horses were being led by four-year-old colt Quality Road. He won his first three starts and looked to be the best male thoroughbred in the country.

Coming in from the middle of the country was four-year-old colt Blame. Trained by Al Stall Jr., the colt ended 2009 with two straight stakes victories and kept right on winning through his initial three 2010 starts.

"Everything has been great since around mid-April really, to be quite honest with you," Stall said. "That's when it was almost like a switch was flipped. You make a long-term plan for a horse and it usually doesn't work out, for a number of reasons - either the horse's soundness or the fact that you think your horses are better than they really are."

The three-year-old crop for 2010, as usual, was an unknown when the year began. Excellent two-year-olds easily can come up short as three-year-olds.

Lookin At Lucky was the 2009 two-year-old male champion after finishing second to overseas invader Vale of York in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the synthetic track at Santa Anita.

Vale of York never came back to the United States and Lookin At Lucky would go on to have a terrific three-year-old season. Trained by Bob Baffert, Lookin At Lucky was the 6-1 favorite for the Kentucky Derby and finished sixth to Super Saver after a difficult trip.

The Kentucky Derby win was the first for owner WinStar Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher in the event.

For the Preakness Stakes, Baffert made a rider change, putting emerging star Martin Garcia aboard Lookin At Lucky to replace Garrett Gomez. The move worked with the colt getting past First Dude down the stretch to snap a two race losing streak. Lookin At Lucky bypassed the Belmont Stakes and in August easily won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

The Belmont Stakes went to Drosselmeyer, giving WinStar Farm two of the three Triple Crown races.

Meanwhile, Zenyatta kept right on winning, making heart pounding runs late to extend her unbeaten streak to 19. She became the richest female thoroughbred in North American history and set up her defense of the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Rachel Alexandra won only two of five starts this year and was retired after a second-place finish in the Personal Ensign to Persistently. Rachel should always be remembered as a great racehorse.

Blame won the William Donald Schaefer and Stephen Foster to begin 2010 and took on Quality Road in the Whitney at Saratoga in August. Quality Road was the 1-2 favorite with Blame going off at a hefty 3-1 in the six horse field.

Quality Road set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile race. Blame raced in fourth and caught the favorite to register a head victory. That margin of victory would prove to be prophetic.

"Seth (Hancock) sat right here at this desk about December 1 and said, 'Lead- up race, the Foster, the Whitney, the Jockey Club, the Breeders' Cup, Horse of the Year, Claiborne Farm,'" Stall said back at the Fair Grounds.

Quality Road would come back four weeks later at Saratoga and win the Woodward as his final race before the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Blame also had one more pre-Classic start. The colt was the 4-5 favorite for the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park the beginning of October. He ran his usual race with jockey Garrett Gomez.

Blame ran in the fourth spot while 7-1 Haynesfield set the pace. Ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Haynesfield controlled the pace and won by four-lengths over Blame.

"We were prepping for the Breeders' Cup, but we were there to win, without question," Stall said. "He hadn't run in eight weeks and might have softened up on us a hair. And then, the type of race and the way the track was configured for a mile-and-a-quarter. It stung for a while but we knew that the race served its purpose. The way he was training we knew he wouldn't go over the top. He just looked and trained like a good horse all the time."

Everything came down to the 27th Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs.

The first day, Friday, began with two jockeys almost duking it out in the winner's circle after the Marathon. Six different jockeys and trainers had wins the first day of the Breeders' Cup.

Unrivaled Belle won the Ladies' Classic by beating leading three-year-old fillies Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. Unrivaled Belle probably won't get an Eclipse Award, however.

On Saturday Garrett Gomez got his second win of the Championships right off the bat by winning the Juvenile Turf race, giving him both turf races for two- year-olds.

Todd Pletcher would win a total of three Breeders' Cup events, all for juveniles.

"It feels good. We had a successful Breeders' Cup," Pletcher said. "You always wish you could have done better, I suppose, but any time you win a Breeders' Cup race you should be thankful and grateful. To win three - they weren't necessarily the three that we wanted, if we could pick three - was a good showing."

Goldikova became the first horse to win three Breeders' Cup races. The five- year-old mare took her third straight Mile and is expected to go for one more.

Mine That Bird ran his last race when he finished off the board in the Dirt Mile.

Zenyatta was the even-money favorite for the 1 1/4-mile $5 million Classic. Blame was the 5-1 second choice in the 12 horse field.

Jockey Mike Smith and Zenyatta got off slowly, but as usual was last during the race. The pace was quick with Quality Road up front with three other horses.

Blame was racing in the middle of the field. Zenyatta began to pick up her pace entering the far turn. The leaders began to tire around the turn for home.

Gomez had Blame take the lead at the top of the stretch and open a clear lead. Zenyatta was gobbling up ground down the stretch. She went from definitely losing to probably winning in the matter of two strides.

Zenyatta had Blame in her sights as they drew closer to the finish. Blame held off the defending champion by a long nose or a short head. Zenyatta's unbeaten streak had come to an end.

"It's exciting the way things worked out," Stall said the following day. "It's a rare thing in this game to make a long-term plan that works. I know the Zenyatta people aren't happy with the outcome, but believe me, she didn't lose anything in defeat. As everybody knows, she's the best racemare there's ever been in the game."

No, Zenyatta lost none of her luster because of the defeat to Blame. In the final poll she outpointed Blame even though the colt had two more first-place votes.

Zenyatta should get her third straight Eclipse Award as champion older female plus Horse of the Year, and Blame will be named 2010 champion older male.

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