Photo by Coglianese Photos/Courtney Heeney
With the shocking defeat of American Pharoah still fresh in our minds, here are seven thoughts that have occurred to me in the hours since the Travers Stakes:
1. Keen Ice has improved a lot during the last few months, going from a colt that couldn’t finish better than fourth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) to the winner of the Travers Stakes. He signaled that he was moving forward when he put in a big rally to finish second in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) earlier this month, and after getting an ideal setup in the Travers, he delivered with a giant performance. He clearly relished the distance of the race, and he figures to be a major contender in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) next month, assuming his connections want to stick with longer distances.
2. In the weeks since the Haskell, much has been made of how easily American Pharoah won the race, but in retrospect, the strong speed bias that made him such a shoo-in to win surely made his performance more impressive than it would have been, while also compromising Keen Ice’s late rally. With the fair track at Saratoga and the extra distance in his favor, it’s not as much of a shock that Keen Ice was able to turn the tables on American Pharoah.
3. There’s no doubt that American Pharoah didn’t bring his best race today, but while many are chalking up his defeat to being tired after a very busy campaign, it’s also possible that he just wasn’t fit enough for a peak effort going ten furlongs. Remember, his effort in the Kentucky Derby was very similar to his Travers effort, as he had to work harder than expected to defeat Firing Line and Dortmund. Furthermore, Bob Baffert has said that American Pharoah wasn’t 100% fit for the Derby, and look what happened after the fact–with the hard Derby effort under his belt, American Pharoah romped to victory in the Triple Crown. Now, with only one easy race since the Belmont, it’s possible that American Pharoah just wasn’t at his peak today, and rather being tired at the end of a long campaign, he might actually benefit from this hard race and rebound next time out.
4. At first glance, it seemed as though the pace of the Travers was modest (opening quarter in :24.28, half-mile in :48.30), which made it surprising that American Pharoah couldn’t hold off Keen Ice in the homestretch. But what would you have thought if American Pharoah had run the half-mile in :46.78? That was the time of the second half-mile fraction, when American Pharoah and Frosted opened up a big lead on the final turn, and the mile fraction of 1:35.08–very fast for the Travers, and for Saratoga–was very taxing and definitely contributed to American Pharoah’s defeat.
5. Along similar lines, it’s hard for a horse to duel from start to finish and still have something left for the homestretch, and American Pharoah had a very tough trip battling Frosted throughout while racing on the inside, where he was unable to relax like he has in his other races.
6. What happened to Texas Red? In the Jim Dandy, he ran a great race to defeat Frosted, with Frammento 11 1/4 lengths behind in fourth. In the Travers, Texas Red never got in the mix, settling at the back of the leading group before failing to respond when asked for run on the final turn. He eventually finished sixth, 8 3/4 lengths behind Frosted and just a half-length in front of Frammento. For whatever reason, Texas Red clearly didn’t run his race today.
7. But speaking of Frosted, what a race he ran in defeat! After achieving great success as a stretch-runner, he completely changed his tactics in the Travers to pressure American Pharoah from the start, and he even seized a brief lead at the top of the stretch before tiring to finish third. He might not have won, and he might not have beaten American Pharoah, but he gave it an admirable try and probably finished closer to American Pharoah than he would have if he had let the Triple Crown winner take command of an uncontested lead.
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