08/29/2015 7:57PM

Watchmaker: Even the best lose sometimes


They all get beat.

Secretariat got beat. Citation got beat. Man o’ War got beat.

You stick around long enough and take enough chances, and you will lose eventually, no matter how great you are.

And it happened Saturday to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers, getting run down late by Keen Ice, a colt American Pharoah humiliated just four weeks ago when he won the Haskell.

In the old days, when horses like Secretariat, Citation, and the like lost a big race they were expected to win, they came back, fought again, and avenged. But the game is different these days, and after processing the postrace comments from his connections, it is fair to wonder if we will see American Pharoah in competition again.

We all know that American Pharoah is so valuable as a stud prospect that it is understandable if his people, who have been nothing but extremely generous with the way they have shared their colt in so many ways, would find the risk of another defeat too daunting.

And let’s be honest: The American Pharoah we saw Saturday just was not the same American Pharoah we saw in all of his previous races this year.

Yes, American Pharoah was pressed aggressively by Frosted, especially late on the backstretch and around the far turn. But the fractions American Pharoah set early were downright slow, and that should have left him with plenty in reserve to meet, turn back, and move on from Frosted’s challenge.

But it didn’t play out that way. The Keen Ice who passed American Pharoah late is the colt American Pharoah toyed with in the Haskell while being pulled up the last three-sixteenths of a mile.

Many people came here to Saratoga on Saturday to see a Triple Crown winner win the Travers and went home disappointed. But they shouldn’t be disappointed. They still saw a Triple Crown winner. And instead of being able to say they saw a Triple Crown winner win, they might be able to say they saw a Triple Crown winner’s last race.

Quick notes

• I cracked wise on Twitter following the Sword Dancer after European shipper Flintshire won in thoroughly dominating fashion that the Europeans could send Ricky Gervais over here dressed in a horse suit, and he’d win one of our Grade 1 turf races.

You get the point. The U.S. male turf division this year has been a mess and is vulnerable to any halfway-decent shipper from Europe, where the quality of turf competition is just light-years better than what we have here right now. And when a true Group 1 performer like Flintshire comes over, well, it’s just a mismatch.

Even if he got an unobstructed rail run and the firm ground he might prefer, all it took was this one performance from Flintshire in the Sword Dancer to show he is the best male turf horse we’ve seen here in the U.S. this year. And by a long way.

• She's no Beholder, but which active female is even close? Nevertheless, it is past time for Sheer Drama to get her due. Back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Delaware Handicap and now the Personal Ensign, combined with a win in the Grade 2 Royal Delta and three other graded stakes placings this year, give Sheer Drama at this point in the season the best credentials in her division east of Beholder’s stall.

That said, Sheer Drama's victory in the Personal Ensign was assisted by empty performances from Untapable and Stopchargingmaria. It is easy to debate the wisdom of the pace battle those two engaged in, but don't let that obscure the fact that neither ran well. And really, after four disappointing efforts in five starts this year, isn't it time to consider it doubtful that Untapable will ever regain her excellent 3-year-old form of last season?

• Credit Dallas Stewart with making the right decision with Unbridled Forever after she won the Shine Again off a nine-month absence early in the meet by pointing to the Ballerina instead of the Personal Ensign.

Unbridled Forever went long repeatedly last year at 3, hitting the board in five two-turn graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. So, Unbridled Forever could have stretched out after the Shine Again, and it would have been perfectly understandable. But the stretch punch Unbridled Forever showed in the Shine Again suggests that her true calling might be as a deep-closing sprinter, a notion strengthened by her Ballerina score.

• Runhappy surprisingly but emphatically made a shambles of his field in the King’s Bishop, the race immediately following the Ballerina. That these races were back-to-back is important because the final time for the seven furlongs in the King’s Bishop of 1:20.54 was exactly two seconds faster than the older Unbridled Forever went in the Ballerina.

Yes, the King’s Bishop was a fast race. No question. However, the paces in the King’s Bishop and Ballerina were disparate enough (23.10 and 46.04 seconds in the Ballerina vs. 22.43 and 44.54 in the King’s Bishop) as to make one wonder if a direct final-time comparison can really be made.

Where Runhappy gets his highly favorable time comparison is against Private Zone’s Forego.

Private Zone looked loose on the lead on paper in the Forego, he proved to be just that, and he turned this seven-furlong event into a procession. He's a very cool horse and is without question one of the top sprinters in the nation.

But Runhappy ran better than him.

The paces in the Forego and King's Bishop were comparable – 22.67 and 45.10 in the Forego vs. 22.43 and 44.54 in the King's Bishop – and because of that, you can make a direct comparison of final times in these races run back-to-back.

Runhappy went his seven furlongs in 1:20.54. Private Zone went his seven furlongs in 1:21.09. That is a significant difference and is highly flattering to Runhappy.