American Pharoah’s shocking loss in the $1.6 million Travers (G1) on Saturday to Keen Ice as the heavy favorite disappointed many, but maybe was not such a big surprise after all.
If Man O’ War, Citation and Secretariat can get beat at the “Graveyard of Favorites” why did we think that this year’s Triple Crown winner was not vulnerable?
Well. It was probably his eight-race winning streak and his dominant performance in the Haskell Invitational (G1) where he won by just 2 ¼ lengths, but it looked as if he could have won by six. He earned a career best 109 Beyer Speed Figure in that outing.
The colt had barely crossed the finish line on the Jersey Shore when calls for heading to the Travers at the Spa came reigning down on his connections. With the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) the ultimate goal, the Travers really did not fit in American Pharoah’s schedule particularly well.
The Travers came just four weeks after the Haskell, and two months before the Classic. I questioned the timing of the races, thinking that you do not really want to go into the Classic to face older for the first time off a two-month break.
Perhaps the best move was to wait for the $300,000 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita on Sept. 26 or the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) on Oct. 3.
Santa Anita surely would have juiced up the purse for the Awesome Again, which seemed like the best spot instead of shipping east to Belmont Park.
The New York Racing Association increased the purse of the Travers to $1.6 million, and the race is restricted to three-year-olds. In addition, it is one of the most prestigious races for three-year-olds at one of the most historic tracks in the U.S.
It turned out to be too tempting for the connections of American Pharoah, who kept their word by stating after the Triple Crown they would share this horse with the fans the remainder of the year.
American Pharoah gave no indication that his heavy workload and shipping all over the country had taken its toll, so on to the Spa it would be.
Getting pressed by Frosted did not help the cause, and Keen Ice rolled in the stretch to get by American Pharoah for the win. Keen Ice earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure, and it was obvious American Pharoah regressed from his Haskell win.
It was an amazingly sporting gesture to send American Pharoah to Saratoga, bringing more than 15,000 fans to the track on Friday just to watch the champ gallop. The excitement it generated this week is unlike anything I have seen in four decades of playing the ponies.
However, now it has left his connections with an even tougher decision. Another prep race seems out of the question, so now American Pharoah would have to take on the likes of Honor Code and possibly Beholder off a two-month break in the Classic.
— American Pharoah (@amer_pharoah) August 30, 2015
Immediately following the Travers owner Ahmed Zayat said his gut feeling was to retire the colt.
“My gut feeling right now, without being outspoken, is to retire,” Zayat stated at the post-race press conference. “It’s to say we had a Triple Crown champion. I feel a huge responsibility. I don’t think you guys understand, and I pushed so hard. I hope I didn’t push Bob because I know Bob is not the person to be pushed.”
Even if American Pharoah had managed to hold off the hard charging Keen Ice, the Travers took something out of him, which might leave him vulnerable facing older horses in two months.
There certainly is the possibility the Travers was American Pharoah’s last race.
While Zayat claims he makes many of his business decisions on “gut feelings” let’s hope his gut in the upcoming days tells him that American Pharoah deserves one more shot at going out a winner.