Keen Ice eyes another win at Saratoga
Article via timesunion, Tim Wilkin
The only time he ever ran at Saratoga Race Course, Keen Ice made people cry.
And that's because he won.
Confused? Keep reading.
The only time Keen Ice ever ran at Saratoga was two summers ago, in the 2015 Travers Stakes. People flocked to the Spa from points east, west, north and south. The New York Racing Association, bracing for a crush of people, capped the Travers Day attendance at 50,000 that year.
That's because American Pharoah, who might have been the public's favorite athlete in 2015, was here. He was the first Triple Crown champion — the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont — the sport had seen since 1978. People who were not horse racing fans were American Pharoah fans.
When it was announced that Pharoah was going to run here, Saratoga Race Course was jumping. The day before American Pharoah ran in the Midsummer Derby, an estimated 20,000 came out to watch him gallop around the Spa at 8:45 in the morning.
And then Keen Ice ruined the Travers party. He won the Travers by three quarters of a length.
Saturday, Keen Ice will try to pull off another Saratoga shocker when he starts in the $1.25 million, Grade I Whitney Handicap. The horse to beat in the race will be Gun Runner, who will be made the morning-line favorite when the race is drawn Tuesday night.
"I think he is as good as he has ever been," said Todd Pletcher, who trains the 5-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.
Some things have changed since the last time Keen Ice stepped on the Saratoga dirt.
When Keen Ice won the Travers, he was trained by Dale Romans. After an eighth-place finish in the 2016 Dubai World Cup, owner Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing changed trainers, moving the horse to Pletcher. The horse was given some time off with the hope being he would be able to run at Saratoga last summer.
He never made a race. His return to the races in 2016 came in October when he was third in an allowance race at Belmont as the even-money favorite.
"It's been a little bit of a tricky situation with him," Pletcher said. "When we got him, we were kind of running out of time."
But Pletcher got the horse to last year's Breeders' Cup and he was not disgraced, finishing third behind Arrogate and California Chrome.
Keen Ice started his 5-year-old season with a second in the Grade III Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream and then was fourth in the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, also at Gulfstream.
"Gulfstream is a track that is not really conducive to him," Pletcher said.
Then came another trip to Dubai where he was seventh in his second try in the World Cup.
Pletcher said the surface in Dubai was one Keen Ice did not like.
After a rest, Keen Ice returned in the Grade II Suburban at Belmont and he won that race by two lengths, beating Shaman Ghost, among others. In that race, he was ridden for the first time by Jose Ortiz, who will ride Keen Ice in the Whitney.
"That was the first time we got to do what he really wants to do, and that is run a mile and a quarter," Pletcher said.
The Whitney is 11/8 miles, not the ideal distance for Keen Ice. Keen Ice is a horse who does his best running late in the race. But Pletcher says the horse is doing as good as he has ever been.
"The one thing we do wish is that it was 11/4 miles," Pletcher said. "He ran real well in his last race; it's just a question of whether he will have enough time to get up going 11/8."