by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Frank Mitchell

More than the weather is heating things up. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both showed their form in victory over the weekend, Quality Road reinforced the evidence that he is the best older colt in America with his Metropolitan Handicap a fortnight ago, and now Blame has won his seventh race from 10 starts with a game effort in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

This is a spectacular older division, loaded with talent and drama of the sort that most sports would kill to have for their headlines.

Blame is the late-comer to this party, but the 4-year-old son of Arch and the Seeking the Gold mare Liable indicated that he might rise to heights like this with his development through the second half of 2009.  (Click here for Blame's pedigree.)

Bred and raced by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, Blame is the partners' biggest single success from a project that Claiborne entered into nearly 15 years ago.

At the Keeneland July select yearling sale in 1996, Claiborne president Seth Hancock set himself a serious task: to find a yearling colt with the physical qualities and pedigree that could make a good stallion … after he succeeded on the racetrack.

As Hancock himself admitted at the time, it was a tall order, but the program at Claiborne was built around breeding, buying, and standing stallions. So Hancock went out and got the best prospect he could find, and other yearling selectors wish they had done so well.

For $710,000, Hancock bought the first foal out of the very fast Danzig mare Aurora, herself the third foal out of champion juvenile filly Althea (by Alydar), who was one of eight stakes winners from the great broodmare Courtly Dee (by Never Bend).

For depth of family, Arch was outstanding, and this is a family Helen Alexander has cultivated at Middlebrook Farm and that has proven a gold mine of talented and highly marketable individuals.

When Aurora proved more limited for stamina than her top-class dam, winning only a single listed stakes, Alexander sent the young mare to the very promising Roberto horse Kris S., who had been moved to Kentucky to stand at what was then called Prestonwood Farm (now WinStar), following the successes of the stallion's early crops in Florida.

Kris S. was impressing breeders with the size and scope of his stock, as well as the blessed combination of speed and stamina that the best of them possessed. Among his early offspring, Prized (Turf) and Hollywood Wildcat (Distaff) won Breeders' Cup events, and among the later offspring, Kris S. got leading turf mare Soaring Softly, Santa Anita Handicap winner Rock Hard Ten, and English Derby winner Kris Kin.

So the mating added stamina and turf potential to a very fast young mare who raced successfully on dirt and probably needed a bit more physical hardiness.

Both at the yearling sale and during his racing career, Arch appeared to get the best from both of his parents, having enough speed to win his debut at 2, then winning four of his subsequent six starts at 3, including the G1 Super Derby at 10 furlongs.

Sent to stud at Claiborne, Arch has withstood the slings and arrows of commercial fortune and has emerged as one of the sires breeders can depend upon for strength and scope and bone.

Overall, Arch has managed to overcome preconceptions about the aptitudes for his offspring and become a respected sire who produces a solid percentage of high-class racers.

One of the first to reach the top was, of all things, an English-trained sprinter named Les Arcs. A winner twice at the Group 1 level, Les Arcs showed his best form in winning the July Cup. He was a top turf sprinter with an excellent turn of foot.

Les Arcs was unusual for Arch's stock because the stallion does not get many sprinters. Instead, most of his offspring show plenty of improvement with age and distance.

Arravale and Pine Island – both foals of 2003 – proved that Arch could sire top-tier performers in America, too. Arravale won the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor and Del Mar Oaks, and Pine Island won the Grade 1 Alabama and Gazelle.

As a sire, Arch has proven more versatile than many breeders would have expected. Instead of channeling the turf talents and late maturity so common among this line of sires from Hail to Reason and Roberto to Kris S., Arch has responded well when mated with lines that have speed and class, such as Liable, a daughter of the Mr. Prospector stallion Seeking the Gold from the great Claiborne family descending from Rough Shod.

Arch has built upon this rich genetic legacy, and with nine crops of racing age, the stallion has sired 26 stakes winners and 27 stakes-placed racers, a hair more than 10 percent of his offspring. Those are the statistics of a useful sire, but he is a really good sire when mated to the right lines and types of mares.

Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

Copyright © 2010, Frank Mitchell

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