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ELMONT, NY – Bolstering his resume in the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, Keen Ice ran down 1-2 favorite Shaman Ghost in the stretch to win the 131st running of the Grade 2, $750,000 Suburban on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Keen Ice stalked a slow pace as Matt King Coal set fractions of :25.28 and :50.01. Shaman Ghost, winner of the Grade 3 Pimlico last out, stayed just off those fractions before taking the midstretch lead under a drive.
Jockey Jose Ortiz then set Keen Ice down and shifted him out, where he gained the lead in the final furlong and outkicked Shaman Ghost for a 3-length victory, completing 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.02.
“I know that Shaman Ghost is a really good horse, but how the race developed, my horse pulled me really close to him,” said Ortiz, who finished the day with five wins, including the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. “I thought I was going to be a little farther (behind). When we hit the 3/8 pole, I was right next to him (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.”
Last week, trainer Todd Pletcher called the 5-year-old son of Curlin an “old hand,” referencing his extensive history in graded stakes. Off at 5-1, Keen Ice was making his first graded stakes appearance on Big Sandy since finishing third in the 2015 Belmont Stakes (during American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win). Keen Ice won for the first time since the 2015 Grade 1 Travers, though he ended his 2016 campaign with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Owned by Donegal Racing and Calumet Farm, Keen Ice saw his career earnings surpass the $3 million mark, improving to $3,037,245.
“That was a great effort; he really ran a huge race,” Pletcher said. “Coming into it, we were a bit concerned with the lack of pace on paper. We thought he might have to be a little bit more forwardly placed. Jose (Ortiz) gave him a great ride and was able to position him towards 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.”
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Pletcher said that the Kentucky-bred could next target the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational on October 7 at Belmont Park.
“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 (the Dubai World Cup), and he was coming into this race training well,” Pletcher said. “We’ll see how he comes out of this, but the Jockey Club Gold Cup would most likely, logically, be his next step.”
Shaman Ghost has finished on the board in his last six races, including a win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup.
“I don’t see any excuses, really,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. “Even though they were going slow, it takes a little out of horses to try and keep close to them. He eventually got the better of him (Matt King Coal), but he didn’t have a whole lot left.”
Follow Me Crev, Watershed, and Matt King Coal completed the order of finish. Sunny Ridge was scratched.
Keen Ice returned $12, $3.90, and $2.80. Shaman Ghost brought back $2.30 and $2.10, while Follow Me Crev paid $3.70 to show.
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