Spa Stunner! American Pharoah loses in Travers to Keen Ice

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) The day after American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes and became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, trainer Bob Baffert already was leery of Saratoga in the summer.

He had every reason to be and now, American Pharoah may have run his last race.

The track lived up to its reputation as the “Graveyard of Favorites” when 16-1 long shot Keen Ice beat American Pharoah by three-quarters of a length in the $1.6 million Travers Stakes – a result that still seems hard to believe.

“I feel bad for the horse getting beat like that,” a disappointed trainer Bob Baffert said. “You can tell he wasn’t on his `A’ game. Pharoah tried very hard. He didn’t have the power he usually has.

“But we saw the last three-eighths was just guts and glory.”

Ahmed Zayat, the outspoken owner of American Pharoah, was emotional after the loss and made strong hints that the Travers may be the brilliant colt’s final race.

“You have to comment to yourself, `OK, is the show over?”‘ Zayat asked about 20 minutes after the race. “`Is it the time?”‘

Then, he said, he told his family, “My gut feeling right now, without being outspoken, is to retire. It’s to say we had a Triple Crown champion.”

American Pharoah made a clean break at the start, but was stalked, then passed, by Frosted with about a quarter-mile to go. American Pharoah regained the lead, but Keen Ice and jockey Javier Castellano began closing and caught the Triple Crown winner, who could not muster the extra energy he usually finds, in the final strides.

“He put in a brave run, but it wasn’t good enough,” Zayat said of his colt’s first loss after eight straight magnificent victories. “We are very accustomed to him running incredibly good.”

Only one of 12 Triple Crown winners has been able to go on and win the Travers – Whirlaway in 1941.

The Spa has been the scene of many racing upsets, including losses by two other Triple Crown winners – Gallant Fox to 100-1 shot Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers and Secretariat to Onion in the 1973 Whitney Handicap. In addition, Upset handed the great Man o’ War the only loss of his 21-race career in the 1919 Sanford Stakes.

“American Pharoah’s legacy is not tarnished in any way,” winning trainer Dale Romans said. “Secretariat got beat, Seattle Slew got beat, Affirmed got beat. They are great sportsmen for keeping him running and taking a chance with him. He has run very hard all year and he ran a very good race today. He was pressed, (Frosted) took it to him, and we were fortunate to be running behind.”

After sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, American Pharoah toyed with his opponents and easily won the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2. But whether it’s the travel – about 19,000 miles by air and horse van, and over 10 miles of racing – or the curse of the Spa, the future of the 3-year-old colt has a new look.

“Have I pushed the envelope too much?” Zayat asked. “I really wanted it for the sport, and my doing it was absolutely – and I shouldn’t be apologetic – of any financial gain or any nonsense like that.”

Before the Travers, the plan called for American Pharoah to close out his career in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 2 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. Then, on to retirement to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud. There was even talk about another race before the Classic.

Also, Baffert has not never had great success at Saratoga. The Hall of Fame trainer is now 1 for 6 in the Travers, winning in 2001 with Point Given. His Spa graded stakes record was 8 of 59, a 13 percent clip, according to Equibase, before the Travers.

Keen Ice, a three-time loser to American Pharoah entering the Travers, was given a perfect trip by Castellano, who won a record-setting fifth “Mid-Summer Derby.” In each loss, though, he got closer – seventh in the Derby, third in the Belmont and second in the Haskell.

Keen Ice ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.57 and returned $34, $6.50 and $3.80. American Pharoah paid $2.40 and $2.10 as the 1-5 favorite in the 10-horse field.

“He’s OK,” American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza said. “Maybe just a little too much for him with the three weeks flying back and forth. He was running pretty comfortable there, but not like he used to before.”

Frosted was third, with Upstart fourth and Texas Red fifth. Frammento and Smart Transition dead-heated for sixth, followed by Tale of Verve, Mid Ocean and King of New York.

“Anything can happen in horse racing and that’s what makes this a great game,” Castellano said.

On the Travers undercard, Sheer Drama ($8.80) won the $750,000 Personal Ensign by 1 1/4 lengths over Got Lucky; Unbridled Forever ($8.20) took the $500,000 Ballerina by one length over Kiss to Remember; Runhappy ($24.60) won the $500,000 King’s Bishop; favorite Private Zone ($5.20) won the $700,000 Forego by 3 3/4 lengths over The Big Beast; even-money favorite Flintshire ($4) cruised to a 2 1/2-length win over Red Rifle in the $1 million Sword Dancer; and Dacita won the $400,000 Ballston Spa by a nose over favorite Tepin.

Sheer Drama, Unbridled Forever, Private Zone and Flintshire all earned automatic spots in their respective Breeders’ Cup races.

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”