Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"He Could Have Given Up"

Keen Ice, the 16-1 shot son of Curlin, lay in the weeds along with the ghosts of the "Graveyard of Champions," winning The Travers Stakes, besting Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.   Only Whirlaway in 1941 escaped with a win at the Travers after his Triple Crown victories.  Man-O-War lost the only race of his storied career there and the great Secretariat fell to an unknown named Onion.

It is tempting to say, "I saw it coming," because the Pharoah has earned more air miles than a business class flier in 2015, as he traveled between California and Kentucky, or Maryland and whatever race destination might follow.  Think of an eight race win streak that includes seven grade 1 wins in 385 days. Consider the physical toll training exacts from an athlete and add the emotionally and physically draining rush of adrenaline needed to compete  Still, it may have just been a bad day at the races for American Pharoah.

AP "working"

AP broke cleanly from the gate and swept to an early lead.  Sliding easily along the rail, he was shadowed by the perennial groomsman, Frosted, runner-up to Texas Red in the Jim Dandy stakes. The first quarter was taken in a leisurely 24.28 and the second in 24.02.  Frosted, under the hand of replacement rider Jose Lezcano, showed strength and will, dogging the Pharoah at about a half a length behind along the backstretch.  Frosted's trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he didn't expect for his colt to press American Pharoah.

Frosted caught speeding

Kentucky Derby pre-race workout

Still running first and second, Saratoga race goers waited for Victor Espinoza to give AP his head, waited for the horse's great engine to churn, to hum, to lengthen his stride and to pull away from Frosted.  Rounding the turn for home, Frosted played his trump card, steaming to a brief lead over American Pharoah, who showed his will and courage by regaining the lead with a sixteenth-mile to go.  Frosted, tiring but gallant, faded to a third place finish 21/4 lengths back.

But American Pharoah was spent, his head bobbing up and down, his energy and momentum drained away by the duel with Frosted that covered the third quarter in 23.60 seconds.  He looked for all the world like a child's sad hobby horse.

Espinoza later said, ".. I feel like from the five-eighths pole, his energy level, it was not the same like before...I noticed the horse that was next to me, I was trying to open it up and not let them get close. And he (American Pharoah) just stayed in the same place."

Trainer Bob Baffert said, "He was empty, empty at the top of the stretch and he was still trying to win.  I thought there was still a chance."

Bob Baffert and American Pharoah

Keen Ice settled into the middle of the pack but remained within striking distance of the leaders as they turned for home. Trainer Dale Romans remarked, " We (Donegal Racing head Jerry Crawford and Romans) said there's no riding for second.  Let's put him in the race, closer and try to win the race.  He was closer than he had ever been."

When the fast closing Keen Ice came to the tiring American Pharoah, he had nothing for him and AP finished three quarters of a length back in second place.   Keen Ice had but one victory in his previous ten starts, running a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes.

Baffert said, " I could tell he wasn't on his A game today, but he tried hard.  I could tell by Victor's body language that we were in trouble at the half-mile pole, and the only reason we ran second was because he (American Pharoah) is such a great horse.  The winner ran a really good race."  Of Frosted's effort, "...he (American Pharoah) was getting pressured from a very good horse.  He never left us alone.  You can't blame them,  It was just an aggressive, competitive ride."

I am very partial to grey horses.

And finally Baffert said, "It almost ended well,  He almost pulled it off.  He tried so hard under the circumstances and he was still trying to win. He could have given up."

Such a long way to go
American Pharoah as a yearling.

Copyright, September 29, 2015 by Loren Schumacher
All photos in the public domain

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