On September 6 of last year, a horse named Keen Ice had a improbable task ahead of him. Turning for home, Starbound and Tiznow R J were in a race of their own. Keen Ice had found his best stride, but may have left himself too much to do.
Yet, Keen Ice kept going. He closed the gap, ran them down, and got his nose on the wire first.
Today, Keen Ice had another improbable task ahead.
After that maiden win, Keen Ice became my Derby horse. As a son of Curlin out of Awesome Again mare Medomak, distance aptitude lurked in his pedigree. The maiden win not only showed that he enjoyed some distance, but also that some fire lurked inside. Keen Ice did not pack it in turning for home that day. Instead he kept running at them, and got the job done.
In the Breeders’ Futurity (GI), he bobbed and weaved gamely late; though he had left himself too much to do, he showed that same desire to make every last inch count. In the Remsen, he rallied from far out on a speed-biased day at Aqueduct to gain third. Through his preps at Gulfstream and Fair Grounds, Keen Ice never had that breakthrough win — but never did anything to convince me to find another Derby horse. As a closer, he reliably fired, and he kept running like a horse who wanted that Classic distance for which he had been bred. Whether he would get into the Derby was touch-and-go for a while, but enough horses in front of him defected that he got a place in the starting gate.
Derby Day came; with it came traffic trouble. Well back early, Keen Ice got boxed in. He came full of run at the end, and his late fractions stood out among the field. Though Keen Ice did not win the Kentucky Derby, he ran a good seventh out of eighteen.
The Belmont went a bit better yet. No one was catching American Pharoah that day, but Keen Ice rallied well for third, his first Grade I placing. Next out, in the Haskell, he ran another solid race. American Pharoah galloped easily on the front end, but Keen Ice rallied strongly to finish second.
That Haskell made a win in today’s Travers look even more unlikely for Keen Ice than his maiden win had looked entering the Churchill stretch. The extra furlong would help Keen Ice, of course. However, American Pharoah had made the Haskell look like a morning work…and unless Frosted decided to run back to some long-ago form lines and try a frontrunning style again, who was going to make the Triple Crown winner work on the lead? How much would Keen Ice have to do late?
Frosted sent. The grey pressed American Pharoah the entire way around.
Keen Ice tracked in wait, near the back of the front flight. He had shown in the Belmont and even the Haskell that he did not need to rally from the clouds. He was wide through much of the race, but wider placements had not been a bad thing through the day. Javier Castellano, riding Keen Ice in a race for the first time, had him in a good spot.
Into the far turn, the top pair had pulled six lengths clear of Upstart, Keen Ice, and Smart Transition in the next flight. The pace proved honest, a bit fast even for a mile and a quarter, especially once they hit the three-quarters in 1:11.48.
Frosted headed the champ as the field turned for home. American Pharoah proved that he had the fighting instinct that he had so rarely needed to muster, putting Frosted away with a gritty re-rally.
By this time, both Keen Ice and Upstart had commenced late runs. Passing the furlong pole, Keen Ice had the best stride. Near the sixteenth pole, he passed Frosted. He kept running like the mile and a quarter horse he was bred to be. American Pharoah had no answer as Keen Ice rolled by.
Keen Ice won for the first time since that improbable-looking maiden win last September. Instead of Starbound and Tiznow R J, he ran down a Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah, and another Grade I winner in Frosted. After a year showing flashes of promise, after a year of piling up graded stakes placements, he not only got his nose on the wire, but joined Palace Malice, Stellar Wind, and Curalina as Curlin’s North American Grade I winners.
After almost a year of waiting, Keen Ice finally came through as my Derby horse…only not in the Kentucky Derby, but the Mid-Summer Derby. He faced a tough field, including the great American Pharoah, and came out in front. Time and distance have agreed beautifully with Keen Ice, and it showed today.
Now, it’s time to get out to Saratoga and snap a few pictures of a boat.