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    It’s called the “Graveyard of Champions” for good reason. Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY has witnessed the upset of the great Secretariat by the unlikely Onion in the Whitney Stakes; 100-1 shot Jim Dandy handed Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox defeat in the 1930 Travers Stakes; and now American Pharoah, the Triple Crown winner the industry has waited 37 years for, is added to the list of shocking defeats.

    Keen Ice will add his name to the list of great 3-year-olds victorious in the 146-year history of the Travers Stakes. The 1 ¼ mile test for 3-year-olds saw a purse increase to $1.6 million with the entry of the Triple Crown winner and a field of ten took advantage of the hefty payouts for the top eight finishers. Although Keen Ice had shown up for all the big 3-year-old races, he only had one victory to his name--a maiden race at Churchill Downs nearly a year ago. With the grade one victory and $850,000 paycheck in the Travers, Keen Ice has made up for it.

    “We knew we were doing the impossible,” trainer Bob Baffert said of the extensive travel American Pharoah endured over the last couple of months, shipping from track to track. “It’s sort of sad to see him get beat,” Baffert continued. “When you see him get beat, I feel bad for him.”

    Sent off at odds of 1-5, American Pharoah took the lead early with Wood Memorial (G1) winner Frosted applying pressure from the outside. Jockey Victor Espinoza kept American Pharoah to a moderate pace of 24.28 for the first quarter and 48.30 for the first half. Although there was some shuffling of positions behind the leaders, the action was up front. As the field made their way around the final turn, Frosted applied heavy pressure to American Pharoah and for the first time since the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah had to work hard to answer the challenge. Espinoza urged his Triple Crown winner as jockey Jose Lezcano (who picked up the mount on Frosted after Joel Rosario was injured earlier on the card) pushed Frosted to a short-lived lead over American Pharoah. There was no time to breathe a sigh of relief as the champion made his way down the stretch because Javier Castellano and Keen Ice were moving quickly from fifth place and mowing down rivals on the outside. Yards from the finish they overtook American Pharoah and grabbed victory by three-quarters of a length. Frosted held third by 2 ½ lengths over Upstart.

    “I’m extremely proud of American Pharoah,” said a visibly shaken Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner, after the race. “American Pharoah ran his race. He put in a very brave run, but it wasn’t good enough.”

    Winning trainer Dale Romans followed Keen Ice back to the barn and took to social media via Periscope for his post-race comments. Lost in the conversation of the live broadcast was Romans first statement to viewers that the grade one Travers victory was the biggest win of his career. Louisville-based Romans has been a trainer for more than 30 years and, among many others, has garnered wins in the Preakness Stakes, Breeders’ Cup and Dubai World Cup, any of which would qualify as a career highlight. But Saturday, Romans did something few can say; he beat a Triple Crown winner.

    After the race, fans took to Twitter to express their shock, disappointment, gratitude and congratulations. For many, as upset as they were to see American Pharoah’s defeat, they were also happy for media darling Romans’ success.

    The phrase “it doesn’t take anything away” was used countless times by fans on social media to describe the collective let-down of American Pharoah’s defeat. But that’s wrong. It does take something away. Sure, American Pharoah still did something no horse in 37 years had been able to do. And sure he’s still got seven grade one wins on his resume. And sure fans will still adore him. But for the two months leading up to the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup, which was widely-known to be the conclusion of his racing career, we’ll have to wonder if Saturday’s race was the last race in which we’ll see American Pharoah run. Will he race again or go ahead and settle into a stud career? Fans were counting on a Breeders' Cup finale. It's going to be a long two months!

    Keen Ice returned $34.00, $6.50, and $3.80. American Pharoah paid $2.40 and $2.10 and completed the $2 exacta for $66.00. Frosted paid $3.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $180.00. Upstart completed the $2 superfecta for $1,159.00. The final time for the 1 ¼ mile race over the fast track was 2:04.57.

    Photo: NYRA


    Image courtesy of Saratoga Race Track.

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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