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American Pharoah edged by 16-1 long shot Keen Ice in Midsummer Derby

By Mark Singelais Updated 12:09 am, Sunday, August 30, 2015
Read the original article on Times Union here...

Saratoga Springs
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah walked down a dirt path back to his barn at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday afternoon, another beaten star at a track long known as the "Graveyard of Champions."

Eduardo Luna, his groom, held his lead shank and a pair of Saratoga Springs police officers followed behind. After a crowd of 50,000 cheered his every move before the Travers Stakes, now only a few onlookers on the backstretch snapped his picture and gave him a smattering of applause.

At 6:36 p.m., American Pharoah and his small entourage passed Barn 27. It's the summer home of trainer Dale Romans, who had just won his first Travers when a 16-1 long shot named Keen Ice passed a tiring American Pharoah in the final sixteenth to win by three-quarters of a length.

Inside his office, Romans slumped back in his leather swivel chair. The heavyset Kentucky trainer wore a white dress shirt that was soaked with sweat from the chest up. He hadn't shown up at the postrace news conference.

"I think I have an adrenaline letdown," Romans said. "I forgot my trophy, my press conference, my wife (Tammy). I ran to the winner's circle carrying Tammy. It's the furthest I've run in 10 years."

It was Keen Ice who did most of the running with a determined stretch drive under jockey Javier Castellano to take the $1.6 million Travers. It was Castellano's record fifth Travers victory.

Keen Ice, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, paid $34, $6.50 and $3.80. He finished the 11/4-mile Travers in 2 minutes, 1.57 seconds, the fastest time since Point Given went 2:012/5 in 2001.

Meanwhile, 1-5 favorite American Pharoah met defeat like Man o' War, who suffered his only career loss at the Spa, and Gallant Fox and Secretariat, both Triple Crown champions who fell short here.

"American Pharoah's legacy is not tarnished in any way," Romans said. "He has run very hard all year and he ran a very good race today. But I'm not going to take anything away from our horse. He ran him down. He bellied down to get him. My horse was extremely gutsy."

Romans said he was confident in Keen Ice even though the horse had finished second to a dominant American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational earlier this month.

"Maybe it's arrogance, but I felt good about today," Romans said. "He had just trained too good. I knew he was going to run really big and I just couldn't imagine Pharoah taking another step forward."

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who conditions American Pharoah, saw a horse that finally had the demands of a grueling year catch up with him. He had won eight straight races since losing his debut in California last year.

In the Travers, he was softened up by a duel with Frosted, who finally gave way at the eighth pole and finished third. Frosted was under a new jockey in Jose Lezcano because Joel Rosario had hurt his back in a fall two races earlier.

Lezcano said he didn't pressure American Pharoah by choice. "My horse, he took me, there," Lezcano said. Keen Ice picked up the pieces and overtook American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza from the outside.

"(American Pharoah) could have just as easily packed it in and he didn't pack it in," Baffert said. "All of a sudden, he just stopped and that's what made (Keen Ice) look so good. He said, 'Dude, I'm done. My legs are rubber.' He put in a gallant effort. It was too bad, because he ran so hard and to get beat like that. And this crowd would have just gone crazy, so I'm disappointed for the crowd."

Owner Ahmed Zayat said after the race his gut instinct is to consider retirement for the horse he bought for $300,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sale in Saratoga Springs two years ago. He added he'd make no decision until he consulted with Baffert.

"Have I pushed the envelope too much?" Zayat said. "I swear to God, I really wanted it for the sport and I shouldn't be apologetic."

While Zayat came to grips with a disappointing loss, it was the first Travers triumph for Donegal Racing, a group led by Jerry Crawford and including father Steven Bouchey of Troy and son Ryan Bouchey of Saratoga Springs, who hold a minority share in the horse.

"I want to say a heartfelt thanks to Team Zayat for bringing American Pharoah here today," Crawford said. "They made this race as huge as it was, probably one of the biggest ever."

Capped by an equally large upset.

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