Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) hasn’t been the most consistent horse in his four seasons on the racetrack, but the son of Curlin has built a track record of blowing my mind once a year.
In 2014, when he was two, that came in the form of an impossible-looking maiden victory. The next year, his star performance came at Saratoga, where he ran past Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers. Though he did not win at age four, he amazed me by hitting the board in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, off just an allowance prep.
At five, that “wow” moment from Keen Ice came earlier in the year than ever before: in Saturday’s Suburban Stakes (G2).
The distance suited him, of course. It’s a mile and a quarter. He was bred as well as an American dirt horse nowadays can be bred for the distance — that was part of why I got so excited about him early in his career. Sure enough, the highlights of both his three-year-old and four-year-old seasons came at a mile and a quarter. He has even shown good form in his previous tries over Big Sandy. He was third in the 2015 Belmont, and his prep for the Breeders’ Cup last year was a late running third going just a mile over that course last October. It had been his first race since March, and his first since a barn change.
But, there were questions. Once again, it was his first race off a lay…his first race since a disappointing tilt in the Dubai World Cup. The field size looked to do him no favours either. Just five horses would answer the call to the post for the Suburban, and short fields so rarely suit a closer like Keen Ice.
With Jose Ortiz in the irons, he found a way.
As many expected, Matt King Coal took the lead; heavy favourite Shaman Ghost send out to keep him company. Though Keen Ice took to the back of the pack early, he did not lag. Instead, he sat along the rail in the back flight, right next to Follow Me Crev, not even half a dozen lengths off the early going.
Down the backstretch Matt King Coal got loose. Ortiz knew what to do: keep Keen Ice moving. Keep him in touch. He advanced gradually up the rail: clearly fourth down the backside, then inching up on third-place Watershed as the field approached the sweeping far turn. They formed a flight through the turn, edging in tandem closer to Matt King Coal and Shaman Ghost.
Approaching the mouth of the stretch, Jose Ortiz asked Keen Ice for his best. At the same time, Javier Castellano asked the same from Shaman Ghost. Shaman Ghost, closer to the pacesetter, assumed the lead first.
But, the son of Curlin was coming. Approaching the furlong pole, Keen Ice had gotten his lumbering bay frame into full stride. He descended outside Shaman Ghost. The favourite kept close for a few strides, but that was it. Keen Ice had the momentum. By the time he hit the wire, he had three lengths on Shaman Ghost.
If this is the Keen Ice we keep seeing through the summer and fall, he may just break his pattern of amazing me once a year.