Mike Smith and Zenyatta had 20/20 vision in their sights.
Instead, the brilliant 6-year-old mare came up a head short to Blame in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Zenyatta rallied from dead last -- nearly 20 lengths behind the pacesetters -- and threaded her way to the outside under Smith. The patented run was on and the finish with a flourish that led to 19 straight victories appeared to be within reach.
It was not to be as dusk settled into Louisville. Garrett Gomez had Blame positioned perfectly throughout the race and the jump he had on the favorite was just enough for the 4-year-old to hold off Zenyatta.
"We're so happy with what Zenyatta has done. She ran her heart out today," trainer John Shirreffs said. "She ran her race and congratulations to Blame. I'm just so proud of her. (The fans) were behind her win or lose and I think she represented them really well. She ran an excellent race."
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Perfection denied and the air went out of the crowd of more than 70,000 who had come out hoping for a date with a statuesque, charismatic mare and history.
"She's my everything. She's just amazing," said Smith, who has ridden Zenyatta to 16 victories. "I just wish I would have been in the race a little earlier, because I think the outcome would have certainly been different."
Zenyatta's charge completed two days of classic racing that saw everything from brilliant performances to jockeys fighting in the winner's circle to tragedy as Rough Sailing, a 2-year-old, had to be put down after breaking a bone in his right front leg in the Juvenile Turf for Colts that opened the second day card.
The star of the event was Zenyatta, who brought a flawless mark of 19-for-19 into the Classic. Still questions existed whether she would be able to show her turn of foot on the dirt track at Churchill after racing much of her career on the synthetic surfaces in California.
When Zenyatta made her way from the stable area to the paddock the roar was enormous. The noise felt as if the race had been run, not yet to be contested.
When the gates opened, Zenyatta took her usual position at the back of the field. What was atypical, however, was how far behind she lagged early, falling almost 20 lengths off the pace after a bit of a tight start.
"She just wasn't leveling out like I wanted to -- the combination of the dirt, of course, hitting in her face was a lot of it," Smith said. "She just wasn't used to that part. Just left her with too much to do. I truly believe I was on the best horse today. If I had to blame anybody, it would be me."
Gomez, meanwhile, had Blame well positioned in the pack and it proved to be the difference as he was able to get just enough of a jump on Zenyatta to hold her off at the wire.
Gomez and Smith spoke after the race's conclusion and Blame's jockey said he knew the result.
"You know, she's so big, your usual measure of a horse doesn't count with her," he said. "She's humongous. You know, he asked me if I won, and I said, I think so, but I'm not completely positive until I see the No. 5 go up. Even after the wire, I thought I won it."
Blame's trainer Al Stall Jr. knew his horse, who is 4-for-5 at Churchill Downs, had a great journey.
"What can you say? Everything went our way. A clean break, nice pace, made the lead, waited a little bit, held her off, and galloped off in front of her," he said. ""I rode this race to the eighth-pole in my mind plenty of times, and I left it at that. When I saw her (Zenyatta) coming, I had a sneaking suspicion that he (Blame) was waiting a little bit like he does. It got hairy there at the end, but I'm sure they could have gone like that another eighth or whatever had to be done. He definitely galloped out in front, and that's him. He's a smart horse. He knows what his job is, and he does it very well."
In the end, the difference between perfection and imperfection turned out to be Blame's head.
"My hat's off to Blame. He ran an incredible race. He didn't fold, and I needed him to fold just a little bit but he didn't," Smith said. "He hung in tough. When I got her out, like I said, it was a gallant effort on her part. She made up a whole lot of ground. To only come up a nose short, it's pretty tough to swallow."
Ann Moss, who owns Zenyatta with her husband Jerry, summed things up, er, perfectly.
"I wish she stuck her tongue out," Ann Moss said. "It was that close."