Romans: “Strong possibility” Keen Ice will go in Clark on Black Friday

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TwinSpires Staff

November 15th, 2015

Edited Press Release

Trainer Dale Romans says “there’s a strong possibility” that Keen Ice, who famously snapped Triple Crown champion and eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic victor American Pharoah’s eight-race win-streak with a upset win in this summer’s Travers S. (G1), could make another start this year in the $500,000 Clark H. (G1) on “Black Friday,” November 27, at Churchill Downs.

Romans made the declaration Sunday morning after Keen Ice breezed a half-mile over the fast main track at Churchill Downs in :48.20 with regular exercise rider Tammy Fox aboard. The bay son of Curlin began his workout at the three-eighths pole and recorded splits of :11.60, :23.60 and :35.60. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.40.

“Right now, I’m training him like he’s going in the Clark,” Romans said. “He’s a big strong and heavy horse that needs a lot of work and he enjoys his work so it’s not hurting him. He’s showing no signs of souring so we’ll train like we’re running him.”

Sunday’s breeze was the first since Keen Ice finished fourth, 12 1/2 lengths behind American Pharoah, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on October 31 at Keeneland.

“I think he could’ve had a better performance in the Breeders’ Cup,” Romans said. “I just don’t think that things set up for him from track conditions to everything else.

“What I think you’ll see at this time next year is a horse that will be talked about as Horse of the Year or champion older male. He’s doing that well and moves forward so much every time he runs that at the end of his four-year-old year, you’ll see an even better Keen Ice and a special horse that goes down in history.

“He’s one of the few horses that I’ve had that the more he does, the better he gets. A lot of horses I can maintain, but you see very few prove the way he has.”

Romans went on to discuss Keen Ice’s campaign at the beginning of the year and how much the horse has developed as the year as progressed.

“At the beginning of the year, the whole goal was to pick up points,” he explained. “In doing so, we couldn’t tinker with him on how to get up in the race more and then fail and not get into the Derby. I really felt like at a mile-and-a-quarter, he would put it all together, peak at that time and be my best chance to win the Kentucky Derby.

“I think he should have been no worse than second. If you watch the race at the three-eighths, we get completely shut down and have to start over. He’s a one-run horse; he didn’t get clear again until the eighth-pole and galloped out strong.

“That gave me the encouragement to keep going with him. I told everyone early in the year that he was like a seventh grader playing basketball tripping over the free throw line. Today he’s Shaquille O’Neal at best.”

In addition to Keen Ice, the Clark is likely to also include trainer Todd Pletcher’s Protonico and Race Day while Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas is eyeing the event for Mr. Z.

Race Day and Protonico last ran in the October 30 Fayette S. (G2) at Keeneland, where they finished first and fifth, respectively.

Aside from a victory in the Fayette, Race Day scored a pair of graded victories at Oaklawn Park this spring in the Razorback H. (G3) and Oaklawn H. (G2). Protonico won the Ben Ali S. (G3) at Keeneland and Alysheba S. (G2) at Churchill Downs this spring, and was second by a half-length in last year’s Clark. Both four-year-olds seek their first Grade 1 victory in the Clark.

“We’re hoping to get a Grade 1 for them both,” Pletcher said. “With Race Day it will be his final race before he goes off to Spendthrift, and Protonico was second last year in the Clark and he won the Alysheba so it’s pretty clear that he likes Churchill. We’re looking forward to getting him back there.”

Mr. Z would be making his 12th start this year for Lukas if he goes in the Clark.

“He’s like an ATM machine,” Lukas said. “He’s there every time and it looks like he’s got everything going for him.”

The Malibu Moon sophomore has made 11 starts at nine racetracks this year, taking the Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 20 and placing in the Arkansas Derby (G1), Indiana Derby (G2), Southwest S. (G3) and Smarty Jones S. He most recently ran sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland on October 30.

Lukas feels that this year’s campaign has not phased the horse much.

“The gene pool helped there,” he said. “But he has just been a real sound horse right from the get go. He likes a lot of training and he doesn’t like prosperity. If you back off a bit and just give him a chance to freshen up, he likes going there.”

The 1 1/8-mile Clark, which will be contested at Churchill Downs for the 141st time, annually lures some of the top three-year-olds and up in the country and is the centerpiece of seven stakes events cumulatively worth $1.38 million that will be contested under the Twin Spires over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The other events on Churchill’s closing weekend are the $200,000 Falls City H. (G2) and $100,000 River City H. (G3) on Thanksgiving Day, the $100,000 Commonwealth Turf (G3) and $80,000 Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes on the November 27 Clark undercard, and the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club presented by (G2) and $200,000 Golden Rod presented by (G2) on the Saturday, November 28 “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, which features racing exclusively for juveniles.

Keen Ice photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Race Day photo courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography
Mr. Z photo courtesy of Gayane Makaryan/Thistledown Racino