This is an exciting week for horse racing fans as, on Saturday, June 6, the horse American Pharoah has the chance to be the first triple-crown winner in 37 years if he can win the 2015 Belmont Stakes.
The Irish will be well represented on the day by Donegal Racing, which is sending their 3-year-old colt Keen Ice into the Belmont Stakes. In an earlier race, America’s top grass-racer, Finnegan's Wake, is entered in the Manhattan Stakes.
Jerry Crawford, principal owner of Donegal Racing, smiles broadly when asked what the Irish connection is. Jerry is an attorney from Des Moines, Iowa, and the Crawford family is originally from County Donegal, Ireland. Donegal Racing flies the Donegal County Flag as their racing silks.
The partnership was founded in 2008 and grew out of Jerry's love for horse racing, his knowledge as an owner, and a serious interest in selecting a Kentucky Derby winner.
Donegal Racing sometimes looks to Ireland for horses, and for pedigree purposes as well, and they have previously owned a racehorse in Ireland.
Each year they purchase a number of young thoroughbreds, and, when evaluating bloodstock, they love some of the Irish bred pedigrees. When new thoroughbreds are bought, the naming committee – made up of their partners – is convened to select a name and they give extra weight to any Irish names that are suggested.
The team has had three Kentucky Derby runners in six years: Paddy O'Prado (3rd in 2010), Dullahan (3rd in 2012), and Keen Ice (7th this year).
On top of this success, this May, they were only the second owners ever to have horses in all three big races on Kentucky Derby weekend, The Oaks (with Puca), The Woodford Reserve (won by Finnegan's Wake) and the Kentucky Derby (Keen Ice; 7th place).
Keen Ice is a stayer—he has the pedigree for running well in long distance races. Jerry stated that Keen Ice is a big, rugged horse, and he believes his horse has better stamina and breeding than anyone else in this year's Belmont Stakes field.
His trainer, Dale Romans, and his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, both believe Keen Ice has a big time chance at the Belmont. I have watched Keen Ice race since he was a two-year-old, and have seen him progress smoothly to reach the post in this last leg of the Triple Crown:
The colt broke his maiden last September 6 at Churchill Downs, and has only ever been entered in stakes races since. These are the type of races that, if you run well, you gain an entry in the Kentucky Derby.
While managing two thirds in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November, 2014 and at the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans in February 2015, he was never lower than 5th place in any of his races leading to the Derby.
And all the while on this path, this colt was a bit compromised as he really needed more distance than these races offered to do his best running. He needs the full one and a half miles and he gets it on Saturday.
Michael Francesa on sports radio WFAN in New York states that he thinks that, of the horses entered in this Belmont Stakes, three of them who also ran well in the Kentucky Derby will be particularly dangerous foes for American Pharoah: Frosted (4th in the Kentucky Derby), Materiality (5th in the Kentucky Derby), and Keen Ice (7th in the Kentucky Derby).
Jerry agrees about Materiality and Keen Ice being the best stayers. Jerry stated, “If American Pharoah can run the mile and a half, my hat is off to him.” Of course, when an Irishman says this, he has found a polite way of saying that he believes there is very little chance of it happening.
Crawford believes Keen Ice needs a solid pace up front. If the second quarter-mile is run in 24.1 or faster, Keen Ice will be right there at the end.
Several entries look to be able to ensure a strong pace this year. As a deep closer, Keen Ice will be tasked with passing tired horses in the last furlongs.
Hall-of-Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard Keen Ice may have just a bit more horse than the others as they near the end of the 12-furlong route.
Desormeaux will be patient over that long one and a half mile oval of deep, soft sand, but he will know when to go. And go he will. The stretch run will be very long, very loud, very exciting and, with any luck, very Donegal green and gold.
TV coverage of the Belmont Stakes will be on NBC starting at 5:00 p.m.
Post Time is 6:50 p.m.