Keen Ice won just one of his nine races last year.
But it was a victory that etched his name in horse racing lore.
The colt won the Travers Stakes and, in the process, dealt Triple Crown kingpin American Pharoah his only defeat of 2015 in a stunning upset at Saratoga — the “Graveyard of Champions.”
“The win was the crowning moment of the year,” said the colt’s trainer, Dale Romans.
Keen Ice is set to make his 2016 racing debut Saturday in the $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.
“I feel like this is his year,” Romans said. “I think he could be as good a handicap horse as there is in the country.”
Keen Ice won’t have to contend with American Pharoah, and vice versa. Horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 38 years has been retired to stud duty, leaving the older horse up for grabs.
As a 3-year-old, Keen Ice was often in contention in the major races, finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont but failing to reach the winner’s circle.
That changed on Aug. 29 in the Travers when he ran down American Pharoah in the stretch and emerged with a 3/4-length victory.
“I thought we had a big chance,” Romans said of the Travers. “I always thought he could win. I thought he could run like that. He chased Pharoah four or five times all year.”
The 1 1/8-mile Donn is the first step for Keen Ice.
Win or lose, Romans said the colt will likely head overseas for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26.
“We’ll pretty much go to Dubai either way,” Romans said. “For his first time out [in the Donn], we’re not going to fault him if he doesn’t run his best.”
Seven rivals are expected to take on Keen Ice (5-2 program odds) in the Donn, including three trained by Todd Pletcher: Mshawish (7-2), Itsaknockout (4-1) and Madefromlucky (5-1). Valid (6-1), Mexikoma (8-1), Financial Modeling (10-1) and Closing Bell (15-1) round out the field.
▪ Also on tap Saturday at Gulfstream: the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. The Pizza Man, a Grade 1 stakes winner, is listed at 4-5 and would eclipse $2 million in career earnings with a victory.