“ It always seems impossible until it is done.” ~ Nelson Mandela
I stood in the paddock at Saratoga on Traver’s Day in 2015, with the perfect view to see the horse that had put his name into history… American Pharoah. As the Triple Crown winner walked by me with his elegant stride, it was almost as if he knew he deserved a crown between his ears. I couldn’t help but think that their was almost an air of arrogance about him, but when you are the first Triple Crown winner to come along in 37 years, I guess you’re allowed a little bit of arrogance.
As I stood there in Saratoga’s paddock, one horse really caught my eye – and it was not American Pharoah. Instead, it was this beautiful, plain bay colt. I read his name on the saddle towel – Keen Ice – and decided he was my favorite in the race. I took my place in the box seat with a perfect view of the track, ready to watch history unfold in front of me. Most of the crowd there on that late August day felt like it was almost impossible for American Pharoah to lose that afternoon, but I was hoping for the unlikely.
I hoped that maybe, just maybe, that plain bay colt could defeat the giant.
After all, we were at Saratoga… the infamous “Graveyard of Champions”. While not meant in a sinister way, the track has earned its nickname over the years with a long history of huge upsets. Saratoga has always seemed to give the underdogs a fighting chance, and that is what I hoped for on August 29th.
The gates sprung open and American Pharoah did his thing, going straight to the lead with the talented Frosted giving him a run for his money early. For most of the race, it seemed like it would be one of these two to win the Travers. As the field entered the stretch, the plain bay colt that I had quickly fallen in love with was coming on like a freight train. He kept coming, passing Frosted and putting pressure on American Pharoah.
As they neared the wire, the plain bay colt passed the giant. Larry Collmus called out
“Keen Ice has won the Travers over American Pharoah in a dramatic upset!” shouted announcer Larry Collmus. “The ‘Graveyard of Champions’ has claimed another”.
I could not help the smile that was on my face. People were crying all around me because their hero had lost, but I just wanted to jump for joy. The plain bay colt that was overlooked by so many that day had beaten one of the best horses of the century. His win inspired me to follow him throughout his career.
Keen Ice’s next start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic resulted in a fourth, as did his next start after that. Then came the bumps in the road… sixth… seventh… and eighth place finishes, the last of those coming in the Dubai World Cup. The plain bay colt was given a long break, and when he returned in the Fall of 2016, he showed some of the promise that I saw that August afternoon in upstate New York. After just one prep race, Keen Ice ran a very respectable 3rd in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, beaten only by Arrogate and California Chrome.
But July 8th, 2017 is the day that comes to my mind when I think of Keen Ice’s best performance. That was the day he pulled an upset over heavily favored Shaman Ghost. Despite being buried on the rail taking all the dirt from the leaders for most of the race, the plain bay colt ran in his typical, gritty fashion, with his ears pinned and head and legs reaching for something that seemed to be out of sight. Seemingly coming from out of nowhere on the outside of Shaman Ghost and Matt King Coal, he found that freight train inside of him yet again, and all I could do was stare at my phone in awe.
Once again, the plain bay colt had defeated the giant. It was his first win in nearly two years – the first since that fateful afternoon in Saratoga.
As someone who is around horses constantly, it is hard to find the time to follow certain horses and watch every race, but with Keen Ice, it seemed like I owed it to him. He strengthened my passion for horse racing when he showed that all giants can be slayed and sometimes it just takes a plain bay to do it.
I was saddened to learn that following a minor ankle injury during a gallop, Keen Ice will be retired and will not be running in what would have been his third Breeders’ Cup Classic. Instead, he will be retired to stud at Calumet Farm.
As I write this tribute to my plain bay hero, I hope that another underdog might emerge from one of his future crops of Thoroughbreds.
Another giant slayer…
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