You can't win the Kentucky Derby unless you are in the Kentucky Derby. That's just a fact. That fact almost became an insurmountable barrier for Keen Ice. He didn't have enough points to get into the field on his own and only made it in after Todd Pletcher chose not to enter Madefromlucky. He's getting his chance now, though, and his connections believe in him. So, should we join them on his bandwagon? You can color me skeptical. In fact, outside of Mr. Z there isn't a horse I like less in the field. Which means, of course, that the Keen Ice/Mr. Z exacta is the most attractive on the board. Keen Ice is listed at 40/1 at Bovada.
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Louisiana Derby: This was not a great performance. He was way back early on - like he usually is. Closers want to relax, save ground, and wait for the time to make their move. Instead, Keen Ice went way wide on both turns, forcing himself to run much further than his opponents. As such, when asked to run in the stretch he had nothing left. He wound up fourth. The bright side, I guess, is that all three horses ahead of him are heading to the Derby - International Star, Stanford, and War Story. He'll need to be much, much better than he was last time out, though, to beat those horses in the Derby - never mind the several horses that are better than any from the Louisiana Derby. It's hard to draw a lot of optimism from this outing.
Prior experience: If you didn't like the Louisiana Derby then you aren't going to like much that came before it, either. The good news, at least, is that he broke his maiden on the second try, and he did it in his only effort at Churchill Downs - a sign that he likes the surface. That was back in September, though, and his five efforts since then, all in graded stakes, have not inspired me to pull out my wallet. I could go into detail, but the story is the same throughout. He drifts to the back of the pack early on and waits. When the time comes to make his move, though, he gets up, but not nearly far enough up. He just doesn't quite have enough. Before the Louisiana Derby he finished third twice and fifth twice. Some good horses have won his races - Carpe Diem, Upstart, and International Star twice - and he just hasn't been at the caliber. In this race it's not clear he will get the trip he needs - there is plenty of early speed, which deep closers need to set the race up for them. The problem, though, is that since American Pharoah and Dortmund both like to be near the lead, it seems less likely that other horses will challenge them on the early pace. I don't know why a horse like this is kept at the higher stakes level instead of being moved down where he can be more competitive and gain some confidence. The problem, of course, is that getting small paydays in big-money races often pays better than winning lower-level stakes or allowance races.
Trainer: Dale Romans was born in Louisville and grew up around Churchill Downs, so he certainly knows what he is up against, and he knows the track as well as anyone. He hasn't won a Derby yet, but he did win the Preakness in 2011 with Shackleford. His best showing in the Derby came the year before when he finished third with Paddy O'Prado. Romans sometimes doesn't shine at finding the best spots for his horses - as seems to be the case with this horse - but he has won three Breeders' Cup races and a Dubai World Cup, so he knows how to shine on a big day.
Jockey: Keen Ice will have his sixth different jockey in eight career starts when Kent Desormeaux climbs aboard in the Derby. Desormeaux looked to have his Derby mount lined up last year after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile aboard Texas Red, who his brother trains. That horse was hurt, though, and after bouncing around a bit he has landed here. Desormeaux is far from the most consistent rider out there these days, but he has had more than his share of success in the biggest of races - he won the Derby and the Preakness in 1998 with Real Quiet and 2008 with Big Brown and just the Derby in 2000 with Fusaichi Pegasus. He was also aboard Paddy O'Prado for Romans.
Breeding: It's probably clear I don't like this horse much. If there is one thing in his favor, though, it is his breeding. He is a son of the great Curlin. His damsire is Awesome Again. That's two Breeders' Cup Classic winners. You can't complain about that. Both sires have been very successful at passing along their impressive combination of speed and stamina - Curlin sired 2013 Belmont winner Palace Malice in his first crop, while Awesome again sired 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper and 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow among many others. These are very good bloodlines. Keen Ice just hasn't lived up to them yet.
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