Sunday, August 30, 2015

Keen Ice has the last laugh in the 146th Travers

As the horses were being stalled for the 1986 Arc De Triomphe at Longchamp in 1986, the BBC ( there was a commentary in English for the British fans) commentator made a statement. “The favorite here is Dancing Brave. He has won several races but the Epsom Derby (1986) will be spoken about more for his loss than the victory for Shahrastani.”


Dancing Brave, with Greville Starkey,  came from out of the blue and failed to catch Shahrastani who had taken over with less than a quarter mile to run.  The race was run in June. The two met at Longchamp in October 1986. Pat Eddery rode Dancing Brave and won the Arc with a well-timed stretch charge.


This is what happened on Saturday at Saratoga, USA. American Pharoah was conquered by Keen Ice in the 146th Travers Stakes. American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown Champion, was seeking his ninth win in a row. Keen Ice had made a winning debut and had been beaten in the next eight outings. It was an upset of enormous proportions. The 146th Travers will be more remembered for the defeat of American Pharoah than for Keen Ice’s victory.


American Pharoah’s loss is in keeping with the ‘graveyard of champions’ notoriety. Gallant Fox, Whirlaway and Secretariat failed to break Saratoga’s tradition. American Pharoah  now has become the latest addition to that list that is growing ever slowly.


Keen Ice, a 16/1 outsider, raced in fifth as American Pharoah, the 35/100 favorite, set out on a start to finish mission. The quarter came in 24.28.  The half (800 metres) was in 48.30. The numbers convey that American Pharoah was in his comfort zone but Frosted, who had run second in the Belmont Stakes, was putting pressure on the leader. Victor Espinosa, committed to the lead, asked American Pharoah for more. Keen Ice was not going away. The three quarters (1200 metres) came in 1 11.48. Turning  for home, American Pharoah had seen Frosted off. He had a lead of about two lengths as raced inside the last eighth. Jockey Espinoza could realize that the Triple Crown champion was leg weary. The winning post did not come soon enough. The party-ruining Keen Ice, responding to jockey Javier Costellano, was gaining ground. In the final 100 yards, it was clear that Keen Ice would win. The margin was three parts if the length and the time was 2 01:57. 


It must be noted that the Kentucky Derby time was 2 03.02. There was no pressure-free lead. Plus the 18,000-mile back and forth air trips was a contributing factor.


Dale Romans trains Keen Ice. He had thanked the Saratoga management for capping the attendance at 50,000 so that there would not be a bigger number  booing when Keen Ice lowered American Pharoah’s colors. Was it a funny thing to say? Was it a prophetic statement?


Jockey Castellano was winning his fifth Travers Stakes. He said, “I followed those two (American Pharoah and Frosted) and I just kept tracking them. I saw them coming back to me turning for home. I knew I had a chance. My horse ran a hard race and to beat American Pharoah, that’s a good race.”


Victor Espinoza made a matter of fact statement. “May be it was a just little too much those three weeks, flying back and forth. I knew I was in trouble some way to go.”


Trainer Bob Baffert is a thinking man. “You never know how the horse is feeling until he runs. American Pharoah travelled and trained well. I could tell by Victor’s body language that he was done at the half mile pole. The only reason he was second, it’s because he’s such a great horse. The winner ran a really great race.”


“My gut feeling is we should retire him. He is not the American Pharoah I know,”  Owner Ahmed Zayat emphasized.


Keen Ice is by Curlin out of Medomak who is by Awesome Again. Curlin won the 2007 Preakness Stakes and won the 2008 Dubai World Cup.


It is jockey Castellano’s comment that sums up the Travers story. “Anything can happen in horse racing. That is what makes this a great game. American Pharoah is a great horse. Take nothing away from him.”


In other news, jockey Lindsay Charnock has died. He was 60. He rode primarily in Northern tracks in England. He rode with considerable success in Calcutta. He is a brother in law of Richard Alford.


Bart Cummings has passed away. A legend in the training profession, Cummings won 12 Melbourne Cups. His last win in the ‘Cup’ came with Viewed in 2008. Cummings was 87. He won 266 Group I contests.                   

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