I don't think there were very many racing fans who weren't at least a little surprised that American Pharoah lost the Travers today. There were certainly no shortage of sharp handicappers who were trying to beat him, but I don't think there were many who were flat out expecting him to lose.
The reality of American Pharoah that seems to have been lost in the Triple Crown hype is that he is a horse. He is a horse who accomplished an absolutely incredible feat and will deservedly go down in history as one of the true greats, but he is a horse. Any horse can lose, and winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont does not change the fact that you can lose. It happens.
The difference in Pharoah's four most recent wins and today's loss, as far as I can see, is the pace setup. In the Derby he stalked a contested pace. In the Preakness he was a lone speed on a sloppy track. In the Belmont he secured a clear lead early and no one managed to challenge him. In the Haskell he tracked an outclassed pacesetter and never really had to work after that horse stopped. Nothing went wrong for him in any of those starts. Today, he speed dueled along the rail. Speed dueling is never ideal, but nine times out of ten if you're going to get caught in a speed duel, you're better off to be on the outside.
We can also factor in the fact that he's shipped back and forth across the country, but it's tough to argue the fact that it's easier to beat a horse when he doesn't have an absolute perfect setup.
In my opinion, this was actually quite the telling race for Pharoah, in a positive way. The way he fought with Frosted, looked to be done early in the stretch but really dug in and put that rival away is incredibly impressive. The way he battled is the way all truly great race horses battle. The unfortunate reality for Pharoah is that this time around, Keen Ice got the perfect set up and took advantage of it. Keen Ice has shown that he's no slouch so the fact that he could win in the scenario that unfolded today should be no great shock.
The idea of American Pharoah retiring after this loss is absolutely sickening to me. I can't stand losing these horses to stud deals so early, and I absolutely cannot stand the idea that one absolutely valiant loss that should not cost the horse any respect from any observer with half a brain would be the reason to send him off to the breeding shed. At the very least, give him one more race, put him in Breeders' Cup, put him against the absolute best of the best and give him that final opportunity to go out with a real bang.
There is no shame in losing, especially in the matter in which American Pharoah lost today. I hope everyone, the connections, the fans, everyone understands that. A great race was run today.