Keen Ice may have lost the battle, as in the $750,000 purse
of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but don't be surprised when the war is over on the
evening of November 4 he is the last one standing.
Yes, we are all well aware that Keen Ice is not known for
hoisting many victory flags, and no one would be brazen enough to say he is
going to go to the unfamiliar surroundings of Del Mar and defeat Gun Runner and
the powerful army assembled by General Baffert. But don't be shocked if he
does, because he's got those heavy hitters just where he wants them, which is
paying little attention to him. And for all you exotics bettors, definitely do
not ignore him in your exactas, trifectas, and superfectas.
Why is Keen Ice so dangerous when he couldn't even defeat
the New York-bred Diversify as the 6-5 favorite. Let's just say in simple
terms, he has been known to play possum before, and the numbers suggest he is
ripe for one of his sneak attacks, like the one where he caught Triple Crown winner
American Pharoah napping and paying too much attention to another horse. And it doesn't hurt that his sire, Curlin, and broodmare sire, Awesome Again, both won the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The race he ran prior to scoring the upset of the century in
the Travers Stakes was not dissimilar to the one he ran Saturday in the Jockey
Club Gold Cup, a race he had no business winning, as you will see shortly.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup has been an odd sort of prep for
the Breeders' Cup Classic. Just go back and watch Blame fail to catch the
frontrunning Haynesfield after rallying from far back, which is not the ideal
running style for Belmont, especially in a small field with a lone speed horse.
We all know what Blame did to Zenyatta in the BC Classic a month later.
Go back and watch Drosselmeyer rally in the stretch in the
Gold Cup and fail to catch Flat Out, who got the jump on him and had a clear
lead at the eighth pole. We all saw what Drosselmeyer did to Game On Dude in
the Classic a month later.
Go back and watch A.P. Indy rally in the stretch after a
horrendous start in the Gold Cup, but was unable to catch Pleasant Tap. We all
saw what A.P. Indy did a month later in the Classic, turning the tables on
There is nothing wrong with losing the Gold Cup if you're
closing in the stretch. Belmont can be a notorious speed biased track, with
closers at a big disadvantage. The only three Gold Cup winners who have gone on
to win the Classic are all in the Hall of Fame - Cigar, Skip Away, and Curlin.
While three horses have accomplished the Gold Cup - Classic double, 23 Gold Cup
winners failed to win the Classic.
As for Keen Ice, his performance in the Gold Cup suggests a much
improved effort in the Classic, with a contentious pace likely, just like it
was suggested in the Travers after he failed to catch an unchallenged American
Pharoah, finishing second to the Triple Crown winner in the Haskell.
Belmont's sweeping turn of no return has done in many a
closer making a big wide run on that turn. Many get lost out there and cannot
sustain their run after losing that much ground for such a long period of time.
What should not go unnoticed is that Keen Ice made up five lengths on the turn,
losing a lot of ground with a big wide move, running that quarter mile in a
rapid :23 3/5. He still was able to close his final quarter in an excellent :24
2/5. You can't close much faster than that at Belmont. But with a small field
and a lone speed horse setting an easy uncontested pace, it is a tough
assignment finding the winner's circle under those conditions.
Not only did Keen Ice come home his last half in :48 flat,
his two previous quarters were run in :23 3/5 and :23 1/5. When a frontrunner
is running his final quarter mile in :24 4/5 and his mile and a quarter in 2:00
4/5, he is going to be very tough to catch, especially when a closer has to
rattle off :23 and change quarters throughout the race and then try to catch a
very good horse with plenty left in the tank.
We all recognize that Keen Ice is not exactly a winning
machine, but, boy, does he know how to make money for his owners and those who
bet him across the board. Here is a horse who went into the Gold Cup averaging
over $1 million a victory in his career.
When it comes to cashing checks and making money at the
windows he has few equals. He was 16-1 in the Travers and earned $850,000. He
was 32-1 in the Breeders' Cup Classic and earned $540,000. He was 18-1 in the
Haskell Invitational and earned $330,000. He was 16-1 in the Pegasus World Cup
and earned $250,000. He was 9-1 in the Breeders' Cup Classic and earned
$300,000. He was 17-1 in the Belmont Stakes and earned $150,000. Even when he
was supported, he was 5-1 in the Suburban Handicap and earned $400,000 and was
3-1 in the Whitney and earned $220,000. You can bet, with Gun Runner and the
Baffert Brigade, and him getting beat at 6-5, he is going to be a big price
No matter how talented you think he is or is not, he is a
money making machine and picks the right races in which to show up. Not bad for
a horse who sold for $48,000 as a weanling and $120,000 as a yearling to
Donegal Racing, whose bank account is $3.4 million richer since purchasing him.
So, ignore Keen Ice in the Classic at your own risk,
especially if he's an enticing price, which is very likely. When they turn for
home, you can bet he'll be seeing those dollar signs, all six million of them,
flashing before his eyes.
Pavel Continues to Amaze
Diversify proved those monster efforts against New
York-breds were no fluke. But the main thought I came away with right after the
race was that third-place finisher Pavel is in his own way a freak. He has done
things I can honestly say I've never seen a young inexperienced horse do
before. If you thought Arrogate was inexperienced last year, he was a seasoned
veteran compared to Pavel. Three-year-olds with only three career starts are
not supposed to compete with top-class older horses in a race like the Jockey
Club Gold Cup, just like they are not supposed to be right there with the
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners in the Jim Dandy Stakes having run in only
one 6 1/2-furlong maiden race in his life, 3,000 miles away. And then he comes
back and trounces the winners of the West Virginia Derby, Iowa Derby, and
Sunland Derby and the Wood Memorial runner-up in the Smarty Jones Stakes,
winning under wraps by six lengths.
What is amazing is that I believe with a more aggressive
ride in the Gold Cup he would have had a big chance to win and do the
unthinkable. Mario Gutierrez did nothing wrong by allowing Diversify to open an
easy lead. His fractions of :47 3/5 and 1:11 2/5 were honest enough. But he did
get stuck between horses down the backstretch and I believe a jockey more
familiar with Belmont would not have waited so long to go after Diversify after
shaking off the two horses he was between. At Belmont in a small field with a
lone speed horse, you cannot be sitting chilly at the five-sixteenths pole and
actually allow a deep closer like Keen Ice to get the jump on you and actually
get in front of you. You have to go after Diversify, knowing the big favorite
is going to be coming. That is just the nature of Belmont. Speed horses have a
tendency to keep going and not come back, so you have to set your horse down
and go after them before you turn into the stretch.
As it turned out, Pavel tried gallantly to come back at Keen
Ice, and despite being bumped and leaned on, ran eyeball to eyeball with the
favorite until the final yards. He still was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths y the
winner and less than a length by Keen Ice in what I consider a sensational
The Breeders' Cup Classic would seem to be beyond his scope
right now tackling Gun Runner, Arrogate, Collected, and West Coast. But,
frankly speaking, I have no idea what this horse is capable of. He hasn't
progressed gradually like most young horses. He has been thrown to the wolves
as a mere baby and more than held his own.
With each race he continues to fascinate me more. Like with
Keen Ice, ignore him at your own risk. As I said, I believe he is a freak, but
to what degree we will find out on November 4.
One final word on the race. Although Good Samaritan did not
threaten in the stretch, finishing a distant fourth, he was matching strides
with Keen Ice, moving up along the inside when he had to steady ever so
slightly behind a tiring Destin and alter course to the outside. That no doubt
cost him several lengths, as he was forced to fan some five-wide turning for
home and simply came up empty, losing momentum through that quick quarter mile.