Keen Ice

Keen Ice

Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs

Donegal Hopes Keen Ice Can Cool Off Pharoah

Partnership group specializes in selecting young horses for 3-year-old classics.

The hits just keep on coming for Donegal Racing, the partnership group formed by Des Moines-based attorney Jerry Crawford with a main goal is to have horses running in the 3-year-old classics. Donegal has succeeded with grade I winners such as Paddy O'Prado and Dullahan.

Chalk up another success as Keen Ice , a very troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), arrives in New York this week to contest the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He will fly from Kentucky with Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah .

“It would be fun to hear what they have to say to each other,” mused Crawford.

It’s been fun for the 25 or so partners who joined Crawford on this year’s crop of 3-year-olds that consists of eight colts and one filly. Before Keen Ice, a previous partnership group has 6-year-old Finnegans Wake , a five-time graded stakes winner who took the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) on Derby Day and is being pointed to the Manhattan Stakes (gr. IT) Belmont day. He has banked more than $1.4 million for his partnership group.

But it is Keen Ice who garners the attention as a potential upsetter of American Pharoah. A Derby longshot at 45-1, Keen Ice got a rail trip into the turn for home, then was hopelessly blocked. He ran on when finally clear.

“He’s a fullback, not a wide receiver,” noted Crawford. “He needs time to get his momentum going again once he’s stopped. Who knows? I think he would have hit the board in the Derby without the trouble.”

Crawford was actually touting Keen Ice as a classic horse last fall after the Curlin  colt scored a maiden victory at Churchill Downs.

“He has the best distance breeding of any horse in the Belmont,” said Crawford of Keen Ice, who is out of the Awesome Again  mare Medomak. “We’ve always thought the added distances this time of year would benefit him. I’m glad we’ll have a Belmont field half the size of the Derby field, and glad we have the extra quarter mile.”

Crawford takes a scientific approach to selecting auction horses for his partnerships, and is now aided by his son Conor, a graduate of the Darley Flying Start program.

“We use a mathematical approach to analyzing genetic similarities of horses that have done well in the Triple Crown races,” Crawford said. “We go over catalogs and use an algorithm we created whereby the horse has to have the pedigree to run classic distances in a high-quality fashion. So we narrow down the candidates to look at that way, and then have a talented team once we get to the sale grounds to analyze the horses physically.”

Of course, having that distance pedigree in your pocket can go a long way toward success at 12 furlongs. Keen Ice, who likes to run from off the pace, would benefit from some help up front should the Belmont tempo be hot.

“The Pharoah camp has a lot more decisions to make than I do,” stated Crawford. “They have to decide whether to go to the front, which historically has been a tough place to win this race from, so they can control the tempo. We just need some pace to run at.”

As usual, Donegal will travel in a group big enough to fill a medium-size hotel. Crawford expects a party of some 150-strong to attend the Belmont. The contingent includes trainer Dale Romans and exercise rider Tammy Fox, the trainer's partner.

“I’ve never heard Dale more positive and optimistic about a horse coming up to a race in my 12 years of knowing him,” Crawford said. “And I respect Tammy’s opinion even more, and she’s as positive as he is.”