08/29/2015 6:47PM

Romans savors huge upset with Keen Ice

Barbara D. Livingston
Keen Ice (left), with Javier Castellano aboard, rallies past American Pharoah to win the Travers Stakes on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Dale Romans said one of the last conversations he had with the legendary Allen Jerkens before the  Hall of Fame trainer died this year was about the day “the Chief” orchestrated one of racing’s most famous upsets, beating the great Secretariat with Onion at Saratoga in the 1973 Whitney. It was a feat not too dissimilar to what Romans himself had just pulled off Saturday when sending out Keen Ice to defeat another Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, in the Travers.

“Allen told me he never once felt sorry about beating Secretariat,” said Romans. “And I started thinking about Allen and that conversation as soon as my horse crossed the finish line in front of American Pharoah. And you know, I don’t feel sorry either.”

As was the case 42 years ago, it was the loser, American Pharoah and his connections, who became the major story Saturday. Romans, winning jockey Javier Castellano, and Keen Ice’s owner, Jerry Crawford, the president of Donegal Racing, had to wait their turn to talk with the media after the race. In fact, Romans didn’t even attend the winner’s press conference, content to allow Crawford to speak for him while heading right back to the barn to attend to his horse.

“This is probably the highlight of my career,” said Romans, who had started only six horses and was without a win during the first 31 days of the Saratoga meeting. “And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Things haven’t been going the way we wanted lately. You’d like to go full out 12 months a year, but you really can’t in this business. So, we wanted to back it out a little this summer. This horse has been the highlight for us for a while now, and I had confidence he could pull this off for us today.”

Romans cited the Haskell Invitation on Aug. 2, when he finished a well-beaten second behind American Pharoah, as the turning point for Keen Ice. 

“He’s been improving all along, but he came out of that race arrogant and happy,” said Romans. “He went in a Volkswagen and came out a Ferrari. We decided to put him in the race earlier today, and Javier rode him perfect. He was never far out of it, and when they turned for home and he switched leads, I thought he was going to get there.”

The legend of Jerkens and Onion will never be forgotten at Saratoga. But Romans added another chapter to that wonderful story on Saturday, the day he and Keen Ice orchestrated a similarly startling upset over the seemingly indomitable American Pharoah.