Saratoga Springs, N.Y. — 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 held off American Pharoah by three-quarters of a length in the $1.6 million Travers Stakes — a result that seems almost unfathomable.
"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 this may have been his 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. That's when Keen Ice and jockey Javier Castellano swept into contention, and took the lead. American Pharoah fought back, briefly took the lead, but was unable to muster the extra energy he usually finds and was beaten to the wire.
"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.
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." Each time, 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.