The End is Here

Saturday, October 31, 2015; 5:35 p.m.–The end of American Pharoah’s racing career begins.

Yep, folks the streaking comet ride that has been American Pharoah 2015 is in its waning moments as he makes his final start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course.  And this is a race that could prove memorable beyond it being the Triple Crown winner’s final start.  This is a deep, talented field that could produce a heck of an entertaining race.

The field:

1.Tonalist

2.Keen Ice

3.Frosted

4.American Pharoah

5.Gleneagles

6.Effinex

7.Smooth Roller

8.Hard Aces

9.Honor Code

10.Beholder

Here’s what I see.

Tonalist is coming off his second win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.  Distance is his thing, but he can’t be allowed to hang back a long time off the pace as Joel Rosario let him do in the 2014 Classic.  If you look back at that race, Tonalist is the only horse closing any ground, but it was too late.  Fortunately, John Velazquez is riding him now and seems to have him figured out.  I think we’ll see a better run from Tonalist this year and I expect for him to have a bit of pace to run into.  If you’ve read my blog over the past two years, you’ll know Tonalist has my heart as a racehorse and I am picking him to win Saturday although it’s going to require his best effort.

Keen Ice is continuing to improve, but I don’t expect him to win Saturday (By the way, his connections DO. Do with that information what you will).  He caught a huge break in his win in the Travers Stakes with Frosted taking it to American Pharoah early and, I believe, American Pharoah being a bit of a tired horse going into that race.  With his off the pace style, he may be there to pick up some pieces, but in my opinion, this field is too deep for him to win.

Frosted. He’s a very nice horse, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think he’s a true mile and a quarter horse.  I’d play him for third or fourth in a Superfecta, but can’t get excited past that.

American Pharoah is tanned, rested, and ready to run.  As usual, he’s been training lights out and I believe is ready for one final magnificent effort. He can win, and as demonstrated in the Travers Stakes, if he doesn’t it won’t be for lack of effort!

Gleneagles–This year’s shot for the elusive Breeders’Cup Classic win from Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien and the Ballydoyle crew.  Hard to say.  He’s a world-class turf miler, but has never run on dirt.  His sire, Gaileo, ran a game race (6th) in the 2001 BC Classic, so more likely than not he can handle dirt by pedigree, but asking him to win on a different surface and at a distance he hasn’t conquered yet is a tall order.

Effinex–Nice horse who can be a bit quirky in his races, but is always well prepared and game.

Smooth Roller is the horse I know least about, but ran an impressive race in winning the Awesome Again Stakes last month at Santa Anita.

Hard Aces, I believe is well over his head in this race and this field.

Honor Code. Provided he can get the distance that he hasn’t run before, but has the pedigree (x A.P. Indy) to handle, he could well upset this field.  Don’t necessarily despair when you see, IF you can see in a full screen shot at all, Honor Code WAY dead last in the early stages of the race.  That’s his style.  And when he’s right, he has a mind-blowing, devastating late turn of foot and can start picking the field off, one by one with a move like the cliche runaway freight train.  And with the kind of kick he possesses, that momentum could get him the win.  It won’t be by daylight, but this horse knows where the wire is.

And then there’s the mare of the moment Beholder.  She’s already won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 2013 and the Juvenile Fillies in 2012.  This year, she took on the colts for the first time ever in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic and all she did was stomp the boys by eight-plus lengths, becoming the first filly or mare to win the race in its 25-year history.  And while that’s an impressive accomplishment, Beholder has yet to win outside California.  She also briefly spiked a fever when she arrived at Keeneland.  Finally, this group of colts is head and shoulders above what she beat in the Pacific Classic.  Not quite sure what to do with her here; she’s a fabulous race mare.  As much as I’d love to see her win, I’m not fully on board believing she’ll be a winner this day.

So there’s the field and my thoughts.  Post time for the Classic is scheduled for 5:35 on NBC television. Safe trips for all and as always ENJOY the finest group of Thoroughbreds in training.

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18,000 Miles

18,000 miles.* Or more accurately, 18,001.25 miles, of which the last one and a quarter was too much.

Welcome to the Graveyard of Favorites, American Pharoah.  But it wasn’t American Pharoah who lost yesterday’s 146th running of the Travers Stakes; the flawed plan of his connections did.

My major and stated concern with American Pharoah contesting the Travers was that he’d traveled SO many miles in the lead up to and throughout the Triple Crown and just in the last 27 days from coast to coast that the constant travel just might extract a toll. In the last quarter mile I got the answer I feared as American Pharoah gamely wrested the lead from Frosted only to be tagged at the wire by Keen Ice in a plodding, decidedly non-American Pharoah last quarter of :26 seconds and change.

The question, for me is, why did they ship American Pharoah back to the West Coast off his Haskell victory? Even prior to the Haskell there was talk that, should he run well and not appear to have had a taxing effort, American Pharoah might contest the Travers.  I don’t understand why the didn’t leave him at Monmouth or ship over to Saratoga or even back to Churchill Downs, which had been his base throughout the Triple Crown while that decision was being made.  Not saying it would have allowed him to win yesterday, but it would have eliminated two cross-country flights and the inevitable stresses and fatigue that can be incurred.

Let’s take a brief look at what did happen on the track in the Travers Stakes.

What exactly was Frosted doing contesting the lead? I’d pay good New York money to know if that was intentional or if Frosted, who was on his toes in the post parade, got away from new rider Jose Lezcano.  It wasn’t his usual stalking, off the pace style. And the bottom line is there isn’t another three-year-old colt that can go stride for stride with American Pharoah, even when he wasn’t at his best, and expect to survive and win. Hard to figure what that was about, but it wasn’t and could never be a viable winning strategy.

But even with Frosted engaging him early, you can’t place the blame for the loss on this confrontation, primarily because the opening half-mile fractions were modest–:24 and :48 seconds and change. American Pharoah can run faster than that in a morning gallop.

Keen Ice “stayed in his lane,” ran true to his style, and in the more than capable hands of Javier Castellano was there to pick up the pieces of a wilting American Pharoah.  All hail Javier in his first ride on Keen Ice. Castellano’s mastery of the Saratoga track was on full display yet again in the Travers and was about the only thing I got right in my pre-race analysis.

Let’s briefly revisit the trips of the other key players in the race.

Texas Red.  Huge disappointment.  He was never involved or a factor in the race and showed none of the style he displayed in winning the Jim Dandy Stakes over the Saratoga Track on August 1.

Upstart. FAR more game than I expected him to be, but never in contention for the win.

Everyone else, pretty much the also rans I expected them to be.

So now the plot completely thickens.  Where does American Pharoah go from here? The “R-word” has already been thrown out in post-race comments. And that’s as in immediate, not the previously stated plan of after a run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If it’s still on to the Classic, does American Pharoah enter it off a long layoff that starts today of run once more prior to?  That was another reason why I had felt the Travers, win, lose or draw wasn’t necessarily the best placement for him in preparation for that goal.  It either leaves a long unraced gap between the Travers and the Classic or about forces one more race to be squeezed in prior to October 31.  Fortunately, it’s not my problem to resolve.

I’m grateful to the Zayats for their generosity with American Pharoah.  Unfortunately, they fell into the same trap the connections of Secretariat (defeat in the 1973 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga) and Seattle Slew (his first-ever loss in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, just three weeks after his Triple Crown-sealing win in the Belmont Stakes) did with one ill-timed race too many. Master horseman Horatio Luro was well known for getting the best out of his horses by not “squeezing the lemon dry.” That’s sometimes hard to remember when you’re in the midst of “laissez les bon temps rouler,” and an impending stated 2016 retirement date.

Much like Zenyatta in the 2010 edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, American Pharoah revealed much more in defeat than in any of his Triple Crown race victories. Up until yesterday, he was just an ultra-cool colt with an amazing stride.  In the Travers he showed he has a heart that’s every bit as amazing.

*According to USA Today, (8.29.15), American Pharoah has been flown more than 18,000 miles around the country in his 2015 race campaign.