The way American Pharoah won the Haskell Invitational earlier this month it seemed the only way that runner-up Keen Ice would ever beat him would be if jockey Victor Espinoza had geared the Triple Crown winner down to a complete stop before hitting the finish line. Unfortunately for fans of American Pharoah, every race is different and every track changes the dynamics of how the races are run.
Saturday’s Travers Stakes prove just that. Trained by Dale Romans and with jockey Javier Castellano in the irons, Keen Ice out dueled American Pharoah down the stretch of Saratoga’s ‘Midsummer Classic’ to win at odds of 17-1.
After taking the lead out of the gate American Pharoah was dogged down the backstretch by the six horse Frosted. Frosted stayed on his hip the entire backstretch, but as they began the turn for home, jockey Jose Lezcano may have strategically move Frosted early in an effort to drain AP for the stretch drive. If that was the case then it worked, because after putting away Frosted, AP had to contend with Keen Ice who was coming down the lane. With a sixteenth to go to the wire, it was apparent that he would not find that gear that he has been able to easily drop into during his Triple Crown bid.
For American Pharoah it was his first loss this year. He had won nine races in a row going into Saturday’s race. In fact the last time he lost was over a year ago in the first race of his career. That loss could have been attributed to running on a synthetic surface, wearing blinkers, and being inexperienced. Certainly trainer Bob Baffert was not discouraged by that loss as he entered American Pharoah in a Grade 1 stakes race immediately after that.
By contrast Saturday’s loss could have been a result of a series of different things: exhaustion, travel, or the three-year-old class catching up to the champ. Or, it could simply be part of the saga of Saratoga being infamously known as ‘The graveyard of favorites’. That was certainly the sense this week when American Pharoah was scheduled to run in the Travers Stakes, that he was not only going up against nine other horses, but history as well.
This time however the after effects may not be as encouraging. When asked after the race about American Pharoah’s future, discouraged owner Ahmed Zayat said,
“My gut’s saying if the horse shows us that he’s not the Pharoah I know, then there’s no question in my mind what I think is to retire him. He doesn’t owe anybody anything.”
The Traver’s was originally designed to be a tune up for the Breeders’ Cup in late October, now questions will remain until the connections of American Pharoah discuss the horse’s future.
Like all athletes horses go through cycles of peaks and valleys, American Pharoah has certainly earned the right to dip in form. However it is up to the owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert to weigh that against what the horse has already accomplished.