Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2016. Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.
#12: My Curby makes a winning visit to Arlington
#11: Reversiontothemean finds the wire just in time
#10: Theogony goes long in the Rags to Riches
#9: Barbara’s Smile soars against the boys
#8: Fireball Merlin and Copperplate go clockwise
#7: Undulated debuts without fear
#6 Stellar Wind defeats a champion in the Clement Hirsch
#5 Connect wins the race named after his sire
#4: Exaggerator matches his sire’s feat
#3 Solar Maximus steps up in class
#2 Keen Ice justifies an ambitious spot
Most of the time, the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies are devoted to victories. However…sometimes an unexpected good race can be just as memorable, even if the horse did not find the wire first.
So it was with Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) this year, on one of the biggest stages of all.
Keen Ice’s year did not start well. He finished sixth in the Donn Handicap (GI). At the time, it seemed like a blip in the radar. It was Gulfstream, after all, and Keen Ice lacks early speed. He shipped to Dubai anyway. Keen Ice finished seventh in his prep race there, the Al Maktoum Challenge: Round 3 (GI – UAE). Still, perhaps he had excuses. Was it the track? A wicked speed bias pervaded the day, and Special Fighter won the race gate to wire. Was it the running style? Keen Ice ran closer to the early pace than usual, and lost ground. The hopeful could find reasons that Keen Ice would right the ship in the Dubai World Cup.
He did not.
Keen Ice returned to his more typical off-pace style, and saved ground from gate to wire. Even so, he could only muster the mildest rally. He crossed the wire a well-beaten eighth behind California Chrome.
After Dubai, Keen Ice changed trainers. He moved from the barn of Dale Romans, where he had been his entire career, to that of Todd Pletcher. He also got a break. Saratoga, the site of his earth-shaking upset last year, did not happen.
Instead, Keen Ice took his time and returned in a modest spot: an N2X allowance-optional at Belmont on October 7. He did not win, but he showed what he needed to. A mile was short, and a loose leader did him no favours. But, he kicked on late to grab the show. He showed interest in being a racehorse, and he showed his trademark late run. It gave him a great foundation to finish off his four year old year, and build toward a strong five-year-old season.
I looked forward to Keen Ice being a force in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
He entered the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Stepping up from Adulator and Wake Up in Malibu to California Chrome and Arrogate seemed a tough ask. On one hand, it was one of the few big-money races at such a good distance for Keen Ice. But, facing the best dirt routers in the world second off the lay with one allowance prep seemed a tough thing to ask.
Thank goodness Todd Pletcher and Donegal Racing asked it of him.
Keen Ice got his favourite spot early, a place on the rail near the back of the pack. Behind an honest early pace, Keen Ice began his sustained rail rally. Through the far turn, his stamina made a statement. He bid goodbye to the trailing War Story and Win the Space. Effinex dropped away. He slipped between the fading Frosted and a game Melatonin. Hoppertunity tried to catch Keen Ice, but the son of Curlin had his measure.
Yes, this race Keen Ice won was the race for third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, over ten lengths behind Arrogate and California Chrome. But, for a fan of this horse who had such a difficult spring, and who had one allowance prep for a top-level race? Seeing him win that last spot on the podium shined brighter in my memory than just about any race this year.
Moving forward from that race, the Pegasus World Cup looks a logical move for a top-notch dirt router like Keen Ice. But, Gulfstream? His previous form there, between the Holy Bull (GII) last year and the Donn this year, had been dubious.
Keen Ice’s one start since the Breeders’ Cup Classic showed he could run in Hallandale Beach after all. He got caught behind lone speed Stanford in the Harlan’s Holiday (GIII), but he got a wise ride from Javier Castellano. Castellano kept Keen Ice closer to the pace than usual, something Keen Ice handled better than he had in the past. Frontrunning Stanford escaped, but Keen Ice outgamed a hard-trying Awesome Slew to capture the place. It proved Keen Ice remains in good form, and proved he can handle the track over which he had disappointed so much in the past.
Next stop? A rematch with Arrogate and California Chrome in the Pegasus. The last time Keen Ice faced that pair, the move looked ambitious. This time, it’s the logical next step for an in-form horse who belongs.