It was just seven months ago that Blame was the upstart youngster who took on some of his sports' top elders and proved he was indeed ahead of the talent curve.
While the 4-year-old colt has had only one start since his breakout win in the Grade II Clark Handicap last November, the son of Arch carries with him a much heftier reputation now as he prepares to take on 10 other rivals in Saturday's Grade I, $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap going 11⁄8 miles at Churchill Downs.
Owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Blame has been a classic late-developer for trainer Al Stall Jr. after being sidelined for nearly seven months and missing most of the important 3-year-old races last season because of a foot abscess.
Since starting his sophomore season last June, the wonderfully bred bay colt has won five of his past seven starts, including his triumph over older horses in last year's Clark Handicap.
That win led many to believe Blame could be a major factor in the handicap division this season, a theory he backed up when he won the Grade III William Donald Schaefer Stakes in his season debut at Pimlico on May 15.
"It's hard to say (how good he is)," Stall said. "At this point he's done everything like a top horse. He sure looks it and he's a great pedigree — his mother's a half-sister to Nureyev and Arch's pedigree is not getting in his way. We just think he's the whole package. We're definitely shooting for the moon, so hopefully he can take us there."
In addition to sporting a 3-for-4 record over the Stephen Foster's 11⁄8-mile distance, Blame is 2-for-3 at Churchill Downs.
Among the many talented foes he'll have to tackle if he is to improve upon both of those marks Saturday is 5-2 morning-line favorite Battle Plan, multiple Grade I winner General Quarters, and defending race winner Macho Again.
Battle Plan comes into the Stephen Foster fresh off a 11/2-length win in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap in what was just his fifth career start.
Overbrook Farm's homebred son of Empire Maker stole the show on the front end that day and, given the lack of pace on paper for the Stephen Foster, could have his way with things Saturday.
"I think it might be his race to dictate because of his running style, but this will be a difficult race," said Chris Young, who manages the Overbrook Farm stock.
General Quarters — winner of the 2009 Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland — finished second to Battle Plan in the New Orleans Handicap but rebounded to win the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill on May 1.
Should the son of Sky Mesa pull off the victory in the Stephen Foster, he would equal California legend Lava Man as the only horses to earn Grade I victories on turf, dirt and synthetic tracks.
"I wish this race was on grass," said owner and trainer Tom McCarthy, who counts General Quarters as the lone horse in his stable. "But he has been good on all surfaces. He was good on the dirt this winter at the Fair Grounds and this is his home track, so he ought to like something about it."
West Point Thoroughbreds' Macho Again broke through for his first Grade I win when he took last year's Stephen Foster, but the famously erratic horse has yet to find the winner's circle in five subsequent starts.
In his most recent outing, Macho Again finished seventh in the Grade III Alysheba Stakes at Churchill on April 30.
"He is beginning to peak like he did last year at this time," jockey Robby Albarado said of the 5-year-old horse. "He really hit his peak last year against Rachel Alexandra (finishing second in the Woodward)."
Rachel in Fleur de Lis
Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will try to rediscover her winning ways on Saturday when she faces four rivals as an overwhelming favorite in the Fleur de Lis Handicap.
The 11⁄8-mile Fleur de Lis for fillies and mares ages 3 and up, is one of five graded stakes races Saturday at Churchill.
After winning all eight of her races in 2009, Rachel Alexandra has run second twice in her two 2010 starts.