On the way out from Hawthorne today, after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I saw a ticket tossed onto a stair.
Whoever played that ticket had a kind of faith I only wish I could have found.
The thought to put $2 on Keen Ice’s nose flashed through my head about five minutes before post. After all, I knew I would feel so silly if my heart horse of last year’s three-year-old class, the horse I pinned as my Derby Horse after an impossible-looking maiden win the September before, sprung the upset at 30/1 and I had no ticket to show for it.
But, I could not make the argument.
It had nothing to do with how he performed in his prep. Unlike the brigade of Keen Ice naysayers, I liked his allowance return at Belmont last month. Yes, he did not win. But, it was his first race since a troubled tilt in Dubai, his first race since being moved to the barn of Todd Pletcher. It was a one-turn mile, on the short side for him. Wake Up In Malibu, representing the red-hot Charlton Baker barn, led the field on a merry chase. Adulator chased him around, second throughout. Keen Ice rallied from his usual spot, well off the early pace, and finished full of run.
That was all I had hoped to see: the spark. Keen Ice had his condition, his will to run.
Bigger and better things awaited: the Clark? The Pegasus? Dubai? Saratoga? Another Breeders’ Cup Classic try at age five?
But, at four? I got a bit nervous. I wondered if it was too much, too soon.
Certainly, Keen Ice would try. A mile and a quarter certainly suited him; he could run all day. If the pace got a bit hot, he would keep coming.
But, even behind California Chrome and Arrogate, the foes were far tougher than he faced last out. Hoppertunity always showed up to these Grade I affairs with his racing plates on. Melatonin and Frosted were both Grade I winners while Keen Ice had been on the shelf, and Effinex had been second in the Classic last year.
Still, the spot was right in line with what we see year in and year out from his owners, Donegal Racing. If they have a shot in the big race, they come to play.
His people knew best.
Keen Ice ran his race. He dropped over to the rail, sat well off the pace early, and made his sustained run. He kept going as Effinex could find no more. He split Frosted and Melatonin as they stalled. The reliable Hoppertunity made his run, but Keen Ice had gotten the jump and had fight to spare.
Though Keen Ice never threatened Arrogate and California Chrome, he won the fight for the last spot on the podium.
There are still bigger and better things ahead for him. Still, he justified his connections’ decision to run him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
And, a few hours after this race ended, I’m still delighted, still fighting off tears. He hit the board in the Classic, and has the form and the pedigree to keep getting stronger through the year and into his five-year-old season.
I wish I knew whose ticket I saw on the way out of Hawthorne. I want to hug them, for having a kind of faith I had saved for a bit softer spot third or fourth off the layoff, somewhere without California Chrome and Arrogate.
I also hope they had a few dollars on Keen Ice to show.