Ice Keen to Tackle Chrome in Breeders Cup Classic

Todd PletcherIt is all systems go for Keen Ice’s Breeders Cup Classic bid and the colt could have a bigger chance than his odds of 30/1 in the futures’ betting for the race suggest.

Jerry Crawford, who heads up the partnership of owners, acknowledges that Keen Ice, trained by Todd Pletcher (pictured), is a long shot for logical reasons but is convinced that this four-year-old son of Curlin has never looked better. His colt does not have the race record of the more fancied runners but Keen Ice has realistic hopes of doing much better than many people expect.

Connections may be justified in thinking positively and allowing Keen Ice to take on the best at Santa Anita. They believe that this is the right distance for him and predict that there could be a hotly contested battle for the lead.  Keen Ice is happy to be ridden in the middle of the pack and has benefited from that scenario in the past.

Ridden by Javier Castellano, Keen Ice has produced an unexpected winning run in Grade 1 company before. Not many US bettors believed that he had a chance in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last year. He was a 16/1 shot but managed to beat the red-hot favorite American Pharoah by nearly a length, galloping away from him at the wire.

Horses are delicate animals that require a period of rest of varying durations after racing and the Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was almost certainly not at his best on that day. It was just three weeks since his last race and his jockey Victor Espinoza said that it was not like the colt to sweat before the start. Another key factor that could be particularly relevant at Santa Anita is that the way the race unfolded made it difficult for the favorite.

Espinoza did nothing wrong at Saratoga, he set sensible fractions on American Pharoah, leading the pack from the moment the gates opened. His problem was that Frosted kept very close to him and hassled his colt all the way.

American Pharoah’s trainer Bob Baffert mentioned quietly the next day that Frosted had taken his colt on without giving thought to the consequences. Baffert did not suggest that it was an excuse for his star’s defeat but he made the comment for a reason.

Without that energy-consuming battle at the front Keen Ice might have found it difficult to come out of the middle of the pack and beat the best horse in training of his age at the time.

If that can happen when the fractions are good a monumental surprise could be in store if they are much too fast at Santa Anita.

In the Breeders Cup Classic there could be a very significant pace scenario. The 2016 Travers Stakes winner and Saratoga track record breaker Arrogate, the second favorite in the Breeders Cup Classic futures’ betting with the United States friendly sportsbooks, is likely to try the same trail-blazing tactics again. His jockey Mike Smith has made it into the Hall of Fame but he has been known to get the fractions wrong in big races.

There is a major possibility that the relatively immature and sometimes unruly Arrogate will be a stronger force in deciding the pace than Smith. If that happens and California Chrome and other horses feel obliged to keep close to Arrogate anything could happen.

That scenario is one that Keen Ice could enjoy. An objective review of his performance on the track to date suggests that he has a mountain to climb to feature if the more fancied horses are in good shape and do not destroy each others’ chances.

Keen Ice has only won two of his 17 starts and has earnings of just under $2 million to his name. That is a tiny fraction of the earnings of the Breeders Cup Classic favorite California Chrome, who is heading towards $14m. Keen Ice did not post an exceptional time when he won the Travers.

Keen Ice started as the favorite but was third on his most recent trip to the racetrack in his first start since moving from Dale Romans to Pletcher’s barn. It was in an allowance optional claiming race over an inadequate distance of a mile at Belmont Park on October 7.

It was his first run since returning from an unprofitable trip to Meydan where he finished seventh, beaten 12 lengths in a Group 1 run over a mile and a quarter in early March. Three weeks later Keen Ice finished seven lengths behind California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup over the same distance at Meydan. Frosted was beaten five lengths, finishing fifth.

Those results make Keen Ice a no hoper but there is a reason to think differently. Crawford’s angle on the Breeders Cup Classic is that Arrogate, California Chrome and Melatonin could get caught up in a fight that could make them vulnerable. That is not an unthinkable scenario giving Keen Ice a good chance of outperforming his odds if the planned hold-up tactics are employed.

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