Five Takeaways from Travers Stakes
1) Courageous Performance: American Pharoah didn’t run his best race in Saturday’s Travers (G1) but the Triple Crown winner performed bravely nonetheless, putting away a determined Frosted before succumbing to Keen Ice in deep stretch. Great horses such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid lost little in defeat and American Pharoah can rebound in the October 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland.
2) Unfavorable Scenario: After leading wire-to-wire as lone speed in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah appeared to be facing the same set-up in the Travers and was a length clear passing the wire the first time. But Frosted advanced to challenge rounding the first turn and continued to hound him most of the way. And that proved to be the difference.
3) Better with a target: I made the same point last week following Beholder’s Pacific Classic victory – the ability to relax during the early stages was key to her excelling at the 1 ¼-mile distance. And I feel the same about American Pharoah. The Preakness and Belmont were fun to watch but byproducts of the Triple Crown winner being lone speed, and the Arkansas Derby and Haskell Invitational (where he rated both times) are more indicative of what he can offer under a realistic scenario (most major dirt stakes attract more pace). If American Pharoah does proceed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Victor Espinoza will not be dueling on the early lead because there promises to be other speed present. And American Pharoah is capable of performing much better with a target next time.
4) Keen Ice/Castellano: Keen Ice’s connections were taking photos of American Pharoah in the Travers paddock and had to be as surprised as anyone by the outcome. Keen Ice brought improving form into the Travers, finishing third in the Belmont Stakes and second in the Haskell Invitational, but still had only a maiden win to his credit. Dale Romans deserves credit for getting him in peak form and it was a savvy move to pick up the services of Javier Castellano, who got aboard the Curlin colt for the first time in a workout last week and put Keen Ice in the race much sooner than previous starts. When it comes to Travers jockeys, Castellano is the king, bagging a record fifth victory, the last two years on big longshots.
5) Graveyard: Saratoga, which claimed previous victims such as Secretariat and Man o’ War, was a fitting environment for the massive upset. Some may still be quick to dismiss the “Graveyard of Favorites” moniker but they’re missing the boat – the perception became a reality last Saturday.