When Horse A beats Horse B in decisive fashion, it’s natural for bettors to assume that the result will be the same should Horse A and Horse B meet again a few weeks later.
While this is frequently the case, there are occasions when Horse B is able to turn the tables, often at very inflated odds since bettors will tend to write off Horse B for the purpose of win bets.
A perfect example of this is the 2015 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, in which the superstar Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was heavily favored to win his sixth straight Grade 1 race. In his previous start, American Pharoah had cruised to a 2 ¼-length victory in the William Hill Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park, winning easily while the late-running Keen Ice rallied to finish a clear second.
The Travers was supposed to be yet another coronation for the Triple Crown champion, and American Pharoah was sent off as the odds-on favorite at 0.35-1. On paper, Keen Ice seemed like a logical second choice, yet bettors—seemingly unwilling to wager on a horse that American Pharoah had just beaten so easily—instead focused on Saratoga’s Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) 1-2 finishers Texas Red and Frosted as the most likely runner-up candidates, sending them off at 5.80-1 and 7.60-1. Even Upstart, third in the Haskell, received more support than Keen Ice, going off at 15.60-1.
In the end, Keen Ice was 16-1 in the Travers, the fifth choice in a field of ten despite his strong effort in the Haskell. Perhaps it was difficult to envision him turning the tables on American Pharoah… but then again, their rematch was coming in a longer race (ten furlongs compared to nine furlongs) at a completely different track, and Keen Ice had been steadily improving throughout the year, whereas American Pharoah had been in sharp form for five months and had gone through the rigors of all three Triple Crown races.
With this in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising to see American Pharoah get caught up in a speed duel with Frosted and grow leg-weary in the final furlong, allowing Keen Ice to rally past and upset the field at 16-1, a price nearly 46 times higher than the odds offered by American Pharoah.
Was American Pharoah really 46 times more likely to win the Travers than Keen Ice? Certainly not, but with the odds so skewed based on the results of the Haskell, it certainly made Keen Ice a great value play.