Yes, life goes on after the Travers

Saratoga Race Course exper­ienced its usual dizzy post-Travers hangover on Sunday, and this one was
Travers winner Keen Ice looks out of his stall Sunday morning at Saratoga Race Course.
Travers winner Keen Ice looks out of his stall Sunday morning at Saratoga Race Course.

Wait, who won this race?

Saratoga Race Course exper­ienced its usual dizzy post-Travers hangover on Sunday, and this one was profoundly different than any we’ve seen in decades.

That’s because we not only had a Triple Crown winner — American Pharoah — but because he got beat by Keen Ice. That threw more than a few things out of whack.

Cleaning out my Travers notebook, here are a few of them:

The loser got the disproportionate amount of attention. And rightfully so.

I got to barn 25 at 8 Sunday morning and waited over an hour with dozens of other media people and dozens of non-media people, almost all of whom were well-intentioned and well-behaved, for trainer Bob Baffert to appear on the other side of the steel barriers with the snappy red “SARATOGA” banners.

Baffert brought American Pharoah out of the stall, and it was difficult to tell if he was showing the colt to the people or vice versa. Both, actually.

Twitter soon flooded with images of American Pharoah standing there looking like a gorgeous equine model and American Pharoah being petted by fans and American Pharoah being fed baby carrots by a little kid.

Then some of us went around the corner to Dale Romans’ barn, and nobody was home, other than workers going about their late-morning chores, and some horses, including Keen Ice, whose raggedy, chewed-on stall door could be identified by the small strip of white tape with his name in black marker, like every other horse in the shedrow.

He was in the back of his dark stall, then stuck his head out long enough to use his hanging hay bale to scratch an itch on the side of his face and yawn for a few cameras.

Ladies and gentlemen, your winner of the $1.6 million Travers Stakes.

No balloon deflates faster than Saratoga Race Course the day after the Travers.

Throw in a vanquished Triple Crown winner, a 16-1 upset and a ho-hum Sunday card, and the hangover is deep and penetrating.

The good news for Pharoah fans is that, initial reaction by owner Ahmed Zayat to the contrary, the Travers isn’t necessarily the end of his racing career.

The good news for Keen Ice fans, especially the ownership partners in the green-and-yellow checked garb of Donegal Racing, is that the colt appears to be coming into his own at just the right time to win races like the mile-and-a-quarter Travers, the same distance as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The good news for the media is that Keen Ice is trained by Romans, who suggested an addition to the Spring Street Deli menu, which names its sandwiches after accomplished thoroughbreds.

“It’s Wonder white bread, bologna, Velveeta cheese and Miracle Whip,” he said. “That’s a hillbilly sandwich straight from south Louisville. The blue collar horse needs a blue collar sandwich.”

Romans is from south Louisville and has won some big races over the years, including the Whitney at Saratoga and Dubai World Cup with Roses in May, the Preakness and Met Mile with Shackleford and the Breeders’ Cup Turf and Arlington Million with Little Mike.

This hadn’t been much of a meet for the 2012 Eclipse Award-winning trainer, until the Travers.

In 339 races run at Saratoga through Sunday, Romans has started just 12 horses, but his earnings total ($881,485) ranks seventh among 275 trainers with at least one start. Keen Ice made his meet on Saturday.

“I’ve won some big races, Dubai World Cup, Preakness . . . I think this is the biggest win of my career, because of the historic value,” Romans said. “And nobody knows if it’ll have the legs that Onion beating Secretariat had. I told Jacob, my son, last night, 40 years from now, to come to my grave and tell me if they’re showing the replay like they did of Onion beating Secretariat.”

It’ll also be interesting to see if Keen Ice has the legs to stay at the level he showed on Saturday. Who knows, he could be a one-hit wonder, considering the fact that, other than the Travers, his only other career victory is a maiden race 51 weeks ago. Romans points out that Keen Ice has been banging heads with the best for a long time now.

One thing that wasn’t out of whack about this Travers was that, no matter what the circumstances, Saratoga fans showed their colors as true racing fans.

Romans and his crew were walking back to Donegal managing partner Jerry Crawford’s house on Union Avenue with the Travers blanket of red carnations after the race and let passing fans take pictures with the blanket.

“I think some of them had a few drinks, and we stood there and took pictures for a half an hour,” he said. “The buzz of Saratoga about racing is so exciting and energizing. You leave here glad to be a horse trainer and ready to go to work. It can be a grind 365 days a year, but when you come up here and everybody’s respectful, win, lose or draw, and they love the races and the horses, it makes you feel good about the game.”

Categories: Sports

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