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Keen Ice pulls another surprise with win in Suburban Stakes

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Two years after pulling a stunning upset of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, Keen Ice did it again Saturday at Belmont Park, blowing past heavily favored Shaman Ghost in mid-stretch and drawing clear to a three-length victory in the Grade 2, $750,000 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park.

Shaman Ghost, the 1-2 favorite coming off wins in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and Grade 3 Pimlico Special, finished second by three lengths over Follow Me Crev. Watershed finished fourth followed by Matt King Coal, who faded after setting the pace. Sunny Ridge scratched.

The win was just the third in 22 starts for Keen Ice and his first since beating American Pharoah in the Travers at Saratoga in August 2015. He had lost 10 consecutive starts since and was coming off a seventh-place finish in the Dubai World Cup on March 25.

A horse that prefers to make one run from off the pace, Keen Ice appeared as though he would be compromised in the Suburban, a race that on paper and on the track had no pace.

But Keen Ice put himself into the race from the outset under Jose Ortiz, laying within 3 1/2 lengths of the early pace established by Matt King Coal, who ran a quarter in 25.28 seconds, a half-mile in 50.01 and six furlongs in 1:13.81.

"You can't force him to show more speed than he wants to, it was just nice to see him break and put himself right into the race," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "You could tell he was taking Jose along without Jose having to keep urging him the whole way."

Shaman Ghost, under Javier Castellano, stalked Matt King Coal from second before taking the lead coming into the stretch. But Keen Ice was on the move, and went by Shaman Ghost outside the eighth pole and drew clear.

Keen Ice, a 5-year-old son of Curlin owned by Donegal Racing and Calumet Farm, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.02 and returned $12 as the 5-1 third choice.

"He was taking a good hold of me down the backside and I said he must be feeling good today and I was right," Ortiz said. "When I passed the three-eighths pole I knew I had a ton of horse."

Shaman Ghost actually broke on top and appeared to be sitting comfortably in second before taking over in the stretch. But he had nothing to offer when Keen Ice came to him in mid-stretch.

"Turning for home he ended up on the lead ... he waited a little bit, but the other horse is a nice horse," said Castellano, who rode Keen Ice in his last five starts and in the 2015 Travers. "You never know which Keen Ice is going to show up."