Confident jockey Garrett Gomez drove Blame to a stirring victory over Edward P. Evans’ Virginia-bred Quality Road in a photo finish in the $750,000 Whitney Handicap Gr.I before 36,658 fans at Saratoga on Saturday.

Blame overtook Quality Road in the final few strides to prevail by a head and become the first horse to officially qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Blame, who went off at 3-1, extended his winning streak to five races and captured his second straight Grade I after taking the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in a dazzling finish on June 12.

Quality Road broke second and quickly surged to the lead ahead of Musket Man. The first half-mile was a comfortable 48.06 seconds, slow enough to leave Quality Road with plenty of fuel for the stretch run of the 11/8-mile Whitney.

Blame swung four wide into the stretch and then rallied on the far outside even though Gomez briefly lost his right rein near the furlong marker.

Blame caught Quality Road at the wire to win in 1 minute, 48.88 seconds with Musket Man coming in third.

Quality Road came out of the Whitney in fine shape, trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday morning.
“It was a tough beat,” said Pletcher. “He was basically alone on the lead. He’s generally a little more focused when he has a target [but] there wasn’t anyone eager to take the lead yesterday, so we kind of inherited it. He’s one of those horses that does things so easily, he was kind of waiting on the competition.”

While disappointed with the loss, Quality Road’s first in four starts this year, Pletcher said the four-year-old Elusive Quality colt remains on schedule to make his next start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward at Saratoga on Saturday, September 4.

“If he continues to do well, I see no reason to change our plans,” he said of the 1 1/8th mile Woodward. “It was still a very good effort and we lost to a very good horse.”

Pletcher added he was looking forward to a rematch with Blame down the road.

(Photos by NYRA via Flickr)