08/29/2015 8:20PM

Keen Ice stuns American Pharoah in Travers

Barbara D. Livingston
Keen Ice rallies to beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With a half-mile to run in Saturday’s 146th Travers Stakes at raucous Saratoga, trainer Bob Baffert knew his Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, was in trouble. The body language emanating from jockey Victor Espinoza and how hard he had to ride the horse to keep him in front was telling.

Three furlongs later, with an eighth of a mile remaining in the race and the pace-prompting Frosted vanquished, the guts and heart that American Pharoah only had to show perhaps once previously – in the Kentucky Derby – still had him in the lead. The crowd of 50,000-plus on another glorious summer day at this 2015 meet went delirious.

Except for those who looked behind American Pharoah and saw the presence of Keen Ice. With a spent American Pharoah shortening stride, Keen Ice was lengthening his under Javier Castellano, carrying him past American Pharoah 20 yards out from the wire and on to a three-quarters-of-a-length win in the Grade 1, $1.6 million Travers.

Frosted, who put early pressure on American Pharoah, finished third and was followed by Upstart and Texas Red. Frammento and Smart Transition dead-heated for sixth. Tale of Verve, Mid Ocean, and King of New York brought up the rear.

American Pharoah’s loss brought most of the crowd to its knees and knocked the wind out of the sails of owner Ahmed Zayat, his family, and Baffert.

So rocked by the loss was Zayat that, without talking with his trainer or family, he said at a post-race press conference that his “gut feeling is to retire him.”

It’s not an official decision. Zayat was flying back to Southern California Saturday night with his family and jockey Victor Espinoza. There are conversations to be had later with Baffert, but a downtrodden Zayat seemed at a loss about what to do.

“My gut’s saying if the horse shows us that he’s not the Pharoah I know, then there’s no question in my mind what I think is to retire him,” Zayat said. “He doesn’t owe anybody anything.”

American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep, the first in 37 years, transcended horse racing, putting him in the mainstream media and bringing the sport worldwide attention. He brought a record crowd to Monmouth Park for the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2, and approximately 15,000 people came to see him gallop at Saratoga on Friday morning.

American Pharoah, the 1-5 favorite, looked like the lone speed on paper in the Travers, and after breaking cleanly under Espinoza, he opened up a one-length lead in 24.28 seconds. Somewhat surprisingly, Frosted became his closest pursuer.

Frosted was ridden by Jose Lezcano, who picked up the mount when Joel Rosario fell off his mount, Bourbon Courage, in the Grade 1 Forego.

Rosario went to Albany Medical Center complaining of back pain, though X-rays proved negative, according to his agent, Ron Anderson.

Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Frosted, said in his box before the horses entered the gate that he would like to see his horse fifth under the wire the first time.

But Lezcano allowed Frosted to take him into the race, and he was within a half-length of American Pharoah after a half-mile in 48.30 seconds and within a head after six furlongs in 1:11.48.

Entering the far turn, Lezcano had Frosted right alongside American Pharoah. Espinoza claimed he felt Frosted’s chest hit his horse’s hip, and “he turned me sideways,” altering American Pharoah’s stride. Espinoza said Frosted hit him five or six times, though replays don’t bear that out.

Said Lezcano: “He started to get out a little bit, and he touched my horse. I never crossed the line. I never touched him.”

Frosted put his head in front of American Pharoah turning for home, but American Pharoah battled back along the rail and put away Frosted by the eighth pole.

But even with Espinoza keeping after Pharoah, he could not hold off Keen Ice, who won for just the second time in 11 career starts.

“Going into the far turn, I could tell he was struggling a little bit. [Frosted] was really lapped on him, and I thought, ‘He’s really going to have to fight now,’ ” Baffert said. “I could tell right there he was just running on pure guts right there. He did that in the Derby, and we got away with it. When he had to get after him like that; he shouldn’t even have to get after Pharoah. Right then, I thought, ‘Wow. It’s easy to second-guess yourself.”

Keen Ice, a son of Curlin owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing and trained by Dale Romans, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.57 and returned $34. Keen Ice gave Castellano a record fifth Travers victory.

“Turning for home, when I saw those horses had hooked up on the lead for a while, I said, ‘At some point, they have to stop,’ and when they started backing up a little bit, I thought to myself, ‘I think I got it,’ ” said Castellano, who was riding Keen Ice for the first time. “It feels so great to win this race. Unfortunately, you have to beat the best horse in the country.”

The best horse in the country with an uncertain future.

Jimmy Turano More than 1 year ago
Anyone who can answer please. The day of the Travers, American Pharoah wore an aluminium pad. Did he always wear this in past races?
CM Vongole More than 1 year ago
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
He has worn the aluminum pad since the foot bruise that caused him to miss the BC Juvenile last year.
gradeonewinner More than 1 year ago
Say what you want about Assmusen, these curlins our coming out pretty good. Keen Ice, Curlina, Jess's dream and dont forget belmont winner Palace Malice. Breed the best with the best and hope for the best. Cant be all about the so called Medication. Not like his two time horse of the year winner started his career 2 for 13 then miraculously won 16 in a row and came up sterile. hmmm???
Scott Kromer More than 1 year ago
keen ice is a horse who loves distance and is getting better with age...AP ran a 105 what more could you ask for....and for those saying he "got cooked" by frosted those fractions really weren't too quick...there's a reason AP and frosted both finished in top 3...
Allan Myshyniuk More than 1 year ago
What a barn race those trainers back east must b pretty proud of themselves(roman and mc glachin or whatever his name is frosted doesn t run the front but would do it to help his eastern buddy out what a joke u can t even b fair when a true ambassador to the sport tries to compete against those eastern bums well I guess the old true way of the eastern brass will never change just like in the seabuscuit move will never change ,just a cow path horse what a shame on racing shame on u easterners
lovethorse0 More than 1 year ago
Fact Doug--you cannot compare beyer sped figures from 20 years ago to today's. Also the rivalry helped EGs Beyers. Pharoah could have thrown down better figures and won by more lengths IF he had actually had to run for an entire race this season. He was off yesterday. Had he been on, he would have won by daylight. Delve into the 21 st century buddy.
Luna Kawa More than 1 year ago
"you cannot compare beyer sped figures from 20 years ago" You pulled that one from your you know what. You don't have to go back to EG anyway. I just wish the "experts" would put AP into perspective instead of letting the myth that he's the greatest ever continue. He's probably not even in the top 100 of all time.
Doug Shaw More than 1 year ago
Facts not emotion: According to the DRF the average winning Beyer for the Travers is 108 meaning there have been lots of faster runnings than 108. AP only got 108 or better once--a 109 in his last race; all his other Beyers were basically between 101 and 105, very good but where are the big numbers that the great horses hit? AP ran his usual race but was pressured and could not hold up; excellent horse but not a great one. For instance Easy Goer consistently ran in the `120's and was almost always chasing Sunday Silence who he could only catch one of four times. AP a nice horse; put him with those two and hope to get the show money.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
The jet lag got to AP.flying horses around has the same as the effect on people. Baffert should van him to KY to await the BC.
Carl Cuminale More than 1 year ago
Flintshire dosen't seem to mind shipping all around the world. And he will be shipping to France and then back to the US to race at Keeneland for the BC Turf. Let's see how he fares.
CM Vongole More than 1 year ago
The decline was evident in the Haskell if you didn't blindly buy into the consensus of every racing columnist that American Pharoah was being "geared down". Just because a jockey isn't vigorously urging his mount doesn't mean the horse is being put into sleep mode. Espinoza was perfectly still... he didn't stand up on the horse or shift his weight to the rear, nor was there a pull-and-release motion in the reins. It wasn't a furious hand-ride, but horses typically run their fastest when they have clear sailing and no interference from the rider. There was no "gear-down"... there was, however, a slow-down. In the Haskell, American Pharoah was a tad late switching leads and failed to put any distance between himself and Upstart, who was completely spent and fading. Keen Ice was legitimately gaining late. Don't get me wrong, American Pharoah still ran a good race in the Haskell, but his stretch run that day was slightly less brilliant than his previous races during the Spring... and sometimes the signs of declining form for such a magnificent animal are really that subtle.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Agree I don't buy into that geared down bs
Dahorsecapper More than 1 year ago
totally agree. I remember another geared down horse Baffert had years ago named Officer. They all said how fast he was and look he got geared down late. once officer faced better he lost .
Ronald Friedman More than 1 year ago
Chas More than 1 year ago
So AP lost! Look at Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed - they lost before their TC run and they LOST after winning the TC...the same thing for AP now...did those three 'consider' to run off to retirement because of their losses after winning the TC? No! Should AP retire? No! Should Zayat and Baffert 'grow up' and stop acting like 'spoiled little kids' just because they didn't their way aka 'a victory'! There are no guarantee's in life as we know and that applies to horse racing and the expectation or given expectation of a win!
Don Crook More than 1 year ago
Wrong about Seattle Slew losing before Triple Crown.
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
Affirmed after he won the TC went to Saratoga and won the Jim Dandy and lost the Travers to Alydar on that disappointing DQ. Affirmed needed 11 whole days of rest before running in the Travers. Not done yet, Affirmed was sent to Belmont to face some really tough older horses, including Hall of Famers Seattle Slew and Exceller. He lost to both, but didn't disgrace himself and the next season he finished with a bang, defeating Spectacular Bid and ending his career with six consecutive Grade 1 victories.