Keen Ice made his three-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII) last month. It was his first race since finishing third in the Remsen on November 29. He crossed the wire fifth, ten and a half lengths behind Upstart. He did show some signs of life in that race: he was the only one who actually kept pace with Upstart in that final sixteenth, suggesting he returned at three with his desire to go a route of ground fully intact.
Instead of staying at notoriously speed-friendly Gulfstream, Keen Ice shipped out to Fair Grounds to give the Risen Star (GII) a try. The race had been on the radar since before the decision to go to the Fountain of Youth, something that instilled some confidence. Even with the scratch of J S Bach, there was still some speed on paper: Hero of Humor, St. Joe Bay, Big Big Easy, and Tiznow R J had shown some tendency to send in previous races, suggesting that Keen Ice would have something at which to run late. Though the concern remained that the race would be too short for Keen Ice, that issue would exist no matter where Keen Ice turned back up on the Derby trail.
In the balance, the Risen Star looked like an eminently logical spot.
As usual, Keen Ice settled at the back of the pack. By the time the field hit the clubhouse turn, he was settled about ten lengths off the pace of St. Joe Bay and Hero of Humor. With Tiznow R J just off them, the early fractions went honestly. He advanced a bit up the rail down the backstretch: not making his move yet, but not losing touch with the field either. As the race entered the far turn, most of the off-pace runners began to muster their moves. Keen Ice looked like one of the last to be asked. Instead of angling out and making a big outside run, James Graham guided him in along the rail.
Keen Ice was making some progress as the field turned for home, but he got boxed in. International Star and St. Joe Bay were in front of him; the fading Hero of Humor stalled beside him. Passing the furlong pole some space to his right opened up. Keen Ice angled outside of St. Joe Bay, and finally had the running room he needed. By then, International Star had kicked away on the inside, and War Story had done so on the outside. Keen Ice found his next gear in the final sixteenth. He ran out of time and track to catch the top two, but nailed St. Joe Bay by a head to snag third.
Today marked Keen Ice’s second graded stakes placing, after his third in the Remsen. It appears he improved from his last rating, even beyond just his placing. His late run looked stronger second off the lay, and he again ran like a horse who wanted to stretch out. (It would be helpful to have Trakus data to compare his late fractions with others in the race in a more quantitative way, but Fair Grounds does not have Trakus.)
I remain very keen on Keen Ice, and await with enthusiasm the plans for his next race. Alone, the ten points from today will not get him in the Derby. It was a step in the right direction. If he continues to improve, and relishes the longer Derby preps as well as his breeding and his running suggest he will? We may well see Keen Ice on the first Saturday in May.