Keen Ice catches American Pharoah in Travers stunner

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 30th, 2015

Keen Ice left a massive Saratogs crowd stunned with his late-running theatrics in Saturday’s $1.6 million Travers Stakes, overhauling Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in deep stretch to post a 16-1 upset.

With only a maiden victory to his credit, Keen Ice proved no match for American Pharoah in his three previous starts, finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby (G1), third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and second in the Haskell Invitational (G1). But the bay son of Curlin finally lived up to the expectations of trainer Dale Romans, who felt the colt was improving rapidly and fit at the highest level.

“He keeps maturing and putting it all together,” Romans said earlier in the week. “He’ll like the mile and a quarter.”

The 1 ¼-mile distance proved a little too far for American Pharoah, becoming the fourth Triple Crown winner to lose at Saratoga and enhancing the track’s reputation for being the “Graveyard of Favorites.”

Jockey Javier Castellano delivered the well-timed ride to capture a record fifth Travers, posting his second straight upset after scoring aboard the 17-1 V.E. Day last year. The 37-year-old native of Venezuela also won with Bernardini (2006), Afleet Express (2010) and Stay Thirsty (2011).

American Pharoah flashed to the front at the break but was being chased by Frosted rounding the first turn, and that rival continued to hound him most of the way. Keen Ice was sixth, five lengths back after an opening quarter-mile in :24.28, and advanced to be fourth heading down the backstretch, stalking the pace through a half-mile in :48.30 and three-quarters in 1:11.48.

As American Pharoah and Frosted continued to go at through the far turn, Castellano began to advance toward the front-runners in third. Keen Ice entered the stretch drive with plenty of momentum as the mile was completed in 1:35.08.

American Pharoah shrugged off the challenge of Frosted after entering the straightaway, eliciting roars from the crowd as he temporarily spurted to a short advantage, but Keen Ice was charging on the far outside with big strides and drew even inside the sixteenth pole, edging away under the wire to win by three-quarters of a length.

The final time was a respectable 2:01.57.

“I just followed those two horses (American Pharoah and Frosted) and I just kept tracking and following with them,” Castellano said. “At some point when turning for home, I saw the horses slow down and start coming back to me so I knew that I had a chance to win the race. I expected this kind of effort from him today, after I worked him the one time last week.

“My horse ran a hard race and to beat American Pharoah, that’s a good race.”

“We put him in the race and Javier rode him perfect,” Romans added. “He was never out of it and turning for home, you could almost tell he was going to win.”

Keen Ice snapped an eight-race losing streak, improving his record to 11-2-1-3 with earnings of $1,240,395.

Bob Baffert was understandably disappointed after American Pharoah’s eight-race win streak came to an end.

“I feel bad for the horse, getting beat like that,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “Just listening to (jockey) Victor’s (commentary), you can just tell he wasn’t on his A-game today. He tried hard, he looked like he was done way early and he kept fighting on. The winner ran a great race. Pharoah, he dug in today…he didn’t bring his A-game.”

Baffert was asked if Frosted’s early pressure did in American Pharoah.

“He could do it easy (handle the pressure) but I could tell by Victor’s body language that (American Pharoah’s) tank wasn’t as full as we were hoping it would be. He got beat.”

Keen Ice photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese/Lauren King