Somewhere in the back of his mind, trainer Todd Pletcher could have had a mantra from his Hall of Fame mentor playing in his head every time he walked past grade 1 winner Keen Ice's stall.
"We don't give up on them," D. Wayne Lukas has been known to say, especially of runners who take a less-than-straightforward road to the winner's circle.
So when Travers Stakes (G1) winner Keen Ice—yes, that Travers, where Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was handed a stinging defeat—dropped not only his first start for Pletcher after he was moved from the barn of Dale Romans, but his second, third, fourth, and fifth tries as well, Pletcher regrouped, got his big bay runner together, and won the $750,000 Suburban Stakes (G2). Watch Video
Keen Ice, racing for Donegal Racing and Calumet Farm the first time since his seventh-place finish in the March 25 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1)—that loss on the heels of a fourth in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1)—found the perfect trip and perfect distance for his steadfast closing style in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban at Belmont ParkJuly 8.
"We were hoping he'd be able to run fresh coming from Dubai and we gave him a little freshening at Calumet following that race, and he was coming into this race training well," Pletcher said. "That was a great effort, he really ran a huge race."
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Glencrest Farm out of the Awesome Again mare Medomak, and was a $120,000 purchase by Donegal from Three Chimneys Sales at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was previously sold for $48,000 to Chesapeake Bloodstock from Four Star Sales' consignment to the 2012 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
Sent off at odds of 5-1 in a short field of five led by 1-2 choice Shaman Ghost, the 5-year-old son of Curlin raced fifth behind a tepid :25.28 quarter set by frontrunner Matt King Coal, moved to fourth along the rail as the half went in :50.01, and advanced to third behind three-quarters in 1:13.81 and a 1:37.89 mile.
"Coming into it, we were a bit concerned with the lack of pace on paper," Pletcher said. "We thought he might have to be a little bit more forwardly placed and (jockey) Jose (Ortiz) gave him a great ride to position him towards to the rail. The fractions weren't fast up front, but Jose had him in a perfect position and when he was able to swing out, you really saw him extend to the wire."
Shaman Ghost, who chased Matt King Coal throughout, issued a successful takeover at the head of the lane after he was strongly asked for run around the far turn, but Ortiz shifted Keen Ice outside and the big bay kept plugging along to take over in the final furlong. The final time was 2:02.02 on a fast track.
Keen Ice returned $12, $3.90, and $2.80, while Shaman Ghost brought $2.30 and $2.10. Follow Me Crev finished third, worth $3.70, and was followed home by Watershed and Matt King Coal. Keen Ice improved his record to 3-2-5 from 22 starts, for earnings of $3,037,245. According to Pletcher, the Oct. 7 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) could be his next goal.
"I know that Shaman Ghost is a really good horse but how the race developed, my horse pulled me really close to him," Ortiz said. "I thought I was going to be a little farther (behind). When we hit the three-eighths pole, I was right next to (Shaman Ghost), on his heels, without asking, so I was in a very good position. Keen Ice gave me everything he had. He was full of run today."