A field of maidens turned for home at Churchill Downs on September 6. Starbound and Tiznow R J were head and head for the lead. Everyone else in the field looked sunk, with no one within almost ten lengths of the leaders. The 9 horse was making up some ground, and cleared the rest of the field just past the furlong pole. He had not given up. At the sixteenth pole, open lengths still gaped between him and the two battling for the lead.
As the main pack passed the sixteenth pole, it’s as if a switch flipped in his head. The situation was now urgent. Five lengths became four…three…two…and by the time the wire came, the improbable had happened. Neither Starbound nor Tiznow R J, so far clear of the rest of the field turning for home, had been in front when the full mile was up. Instead, the mission that had looked impossible…wasn’t. The horse charging from behind had passed them, and prevailed by a head.
That late-charging dynamo was Keen Ice, a son of Curlin out of the Awesome Again mare Medomak. He had raced once before that, a five-and-a-half furlong maiden special at Ellis. He was fourth that day, beaten nine and a half lengths. He loped along near the back late, and fired down the stretch. By then, the three who hit the board were gone, but he showed he could pass horses. The race seemed a bit short for him, anyway. With all that Classic-distance blood, five and a half furlongs sounded more like a warm-up than a horse race.
Keen Ice’s owner and trainer, Donegal Racing and Dale Romans, have never been known to dodge stiff company if they believe they have a good horse on their hand. Thus, it came as no surprise that Keen Ice’s next stop after his maiden win was the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland. It was a class rise, but also a step in the right direction with respect to distance. The maiden win was a mile; the Breeders’ Futurity was a mile and a sixteenth.
He settled at the back of the pack early, as one would expect after watching his maiden attempts. In this race, he may have settled even too far back early. Keen Ice was off the screen for a healthy portion of the backstretch, reappearing about halfway down. As he reentered the camera lens, it looked like the very definition of a long, sustained run; he was steadily closing up ground along the rail as the field approached the far turn. The run stalled a bit going into the far turn due to some traffic trouble along the rail. Still, he angled out a bit through the far turn, evaded the stalling Sharm, and kept going. Just like last out, he truly realised the urgency of the situation, coming down the stretch. By that point he had no chance to catch Carpe Diem or Mr. Z, but he clearly had a goal in mind. He had to get through a group of horses to make any progress at all, and he just weaved through them. He ran out of room to make it to the front of that flight, and ended up finishing fifth beaten 13 1/2 lengths. Still, that was only a length and a half behind third-place Bold Conquest. The fact that a two-year-old racing for just the third time was willing to start dodging and weaving through horses to find room? He is fearless, and he has heart.
Instead of pointing him to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) earlier this month, Keen Ice got a bit of time to train and develop before his next race. Though he has been a regular presence on the Churchill Downs worktab since the Breeders’ Futurity, he did not return to the races until the November 29 Remsen Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct. It made sense, given his later-developing breeding and the fact that the Remsen is the first big nine-furlong test for top-flight juveniles.
The races leading into the Remsen boded terribly for Keen Ice. His dead-closing style is a little pace-dependent anyway, and the way the track was playing was not helping matters. Nobody farther than two lengths off the pace at first call won all day. Still, Keen Ice showed up, and did exactly what he came there to do: run his race, and turn in as game an effort as possible.
He was near the back early, and rider Corey Lanerie did exactly the right thing given how golden the rail was today. Despite breaking from the 8 post, he had his horse right along the rail as the field was going around the clubhouse turn. He saved ground and rode that rail all the way around into the stretch. Passing the three-sixteenths pole, a somewhat familiar situation presented itself. This time, it was three horses duking it out for the front: Leave The Light On, Frosted, and Classy Class. The pack was seven or eight lengths back. Keen Ice was just beginning to roll, and passing the furlong pole he had gotten ahead of everyone but those three in front. Classy Class had started to drop out of it by then, as Keen Ice was finally finding his late kick. He maneuvered far enough off the rail to get by the fading Classy Class on his inside, and crossed the wire in third. Leave The Light On and Frosted were too far in front on such a speed-friendly track, but once again Keen Ice showed both heart and late-running flair.
This is only the beginning of Keen Ice’s story. As long as he stays healthy, sound, and happy to race…who knows where he will go? He still needs to grow into himself a little, but that is fine. The Curlin babies get better with age, and mature a bit late in general. What matters is he has the things that can’t be taught: heart, fearlessness, and a pedigree to run all day.