Already guaranteed his place in the history books as the only horse to beat 2015 US Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, the Dale Romans-trained Keen Ice embarks on his latest quest, a crack at the 2016 Dubai Wold Cup, when he lines up in at Meydan tomorrow evening.
Ryan Moore takes the ride as the 4-year-old, who arrived in Dubai two weeks ago, makes his local debut in the G1 Al Maktoum R3, over the same course and distance as the world’s richest horse race three weeks later.
One of his rivals is likely to be Golden Soul, who was second to Orb in the 2013 Kentucky Derby when trained by Dallas Stewart. He is now with globetrotting South African Mike de Kock.
With the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Frosted and Art Sherman’s California Chrome having already advertised their claims for the $10 million Dubai World Cup with stylish victories on the Meydan dirt track, Keen Ice will need to step up on what appeared a lacklustre seasonal return in the G1 Donn Handicap a month ago.
That mile-and-an-eighth Gulfstream Park contest is a recognised stepping-stone towards the World Cup, with Invasor (2007), Captain Steve (2001) and Cigar (1996) all having won it en route to success in Dubai.
Mshawish, winner of the Donn this year, is slated among the likely Dubai World Cup runners this year, seemingly to the delight of Romans - but more about that later.
Positives from Donn Handicap run
Romans, who won the 2005 Dubai World Cup with RosesInMay, who had finished second in that year’s Donn Handicap in his prep race for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, has entrusted Keen Ice’s preparation at Meydan to assistant trainer Tammy Fox, who is also the horse’s work rider.
Romans, who is not expected in Dubai until World Cup week, said: “All has gone smoothly to date and he settled in straightaway with no dramas. He worked last Saturday and breezed about 800 metres around the 49-second mark.
“Tammy was very pleased with him and said he did his work without over-extending himself and had plenty more to offer. That should have put him where we want him ahead of Saturday. He has already had a race, remember, and it is still three weeks until the ultimate target. “
Reflecting on that run in the Donn, Romans was far from downbeat. “It was his first run of the season and he was far from fully cooked. They went no real pace, which was never going to suit him, and he was staying on strongly.
“The track that day seemed to favour horses ridden near the speed and Javier Castellano reported he would have gone close given an extra 200 metres. He actually struggled to pull him up as he was galloping out so strongly crossing the line.”
You just need to look at Keen Ice’s form to understand Castellano’s comments; stamina certainly appeared to be the horse’s forte last year.
His crowning glory, when he eclipsed American Pharoah, was in the mile-and-a-quarter Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. He only passed that famous rival, who tried to make all, well inside the final 200 metres to win going away.
‘A bigger, stronger horse than Roses In May’
In the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, he was never able to throw down a serious challenge, but did stay on to snatch third. And in the Kentucky Derby previously, he was noted staying on strongly, but far too late, to finish seventh.
In both the ‘Run For The Roses’ and ‘The Test Of The Champion’, he finished one place ahead of South African challenger Mubtaahij – who is among his 11 rivals on Saturday.
Romans said: “It is great to be back with a horse we think has a genuine chance in the World Cup. He has improved physically from three to four and is a bigger, stronger horse than Roses In May was.
“We took the decision to have the final prep in Dubai as the longer you spend away from home in a situation like this, the longer the horse has to acclimatise and get to know the track. A course-and-distance outing, in a race, can only be a good thing preparation wise.
“His work has been good and we took him to the track for to familiarise him with the parade ring, under the floodlights, on race night two weeks ago. He took it all in his stride.
“He is a big horse, a strong horse who takes his travelling well and we often describe as something of an iron horse. As I have said, in his work he seems fine on the surface, but it will certainly do no harm to have a race on it. We then have three weeks to produce him on the big night at the top of his game.
“It is just exciting to have a runner at Meydan with such a talented and tough horse who should be suited by the conditions.”
As highlighted, a fast run mile and a quarter should prove ideal for Keen Ice and, with the likes of California Chrome in the field on March 26, a decent pace should be assured.
Romans said: “Hopefully on the big night they will go quick. California Chrome, Frosted and Mshawish all tend to race handily, so we should get a good gallop.
“Obviously we do not know the final World Cup field, but we should know a lot more after Saturday.”
DubaiMillennium (2000), StreetCry (2002) and Electrocutionist (2006) all won tomorrow’s race, for Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin, on their way to World Cup glory.