This is a continuing series examining the profile of each contender for this year's Kentucky Derby. Links to all the previews in the series can be found in the left sidebar under Kentucky Derby 136: Contender Profiles.
Dam: Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)
Trainer: Nick Zito
Jockey: Jose Lezcano
Career Record: 7-3-0-0
Graded Earnings (rank): $357,500 (#8)
Running Style: Closer
After not showing a whole lot of speed in his first two career starts, Ice Box pressed the pace in the last two starts of his juvenile campaign and his first start as a three year old. Then, all of a sudden, he became a stone-cold closer. In the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth he was 8 ½ lengths back early on in the race and in the Grade 1 Florida Derby he found himself almost 10 lengths back after a half mile.
Ice Box is one of the few true closers in this year's Derby field, something that makes him an interesting prospect.
How he got to the Derby: Ice Box closed out his juvenile campaign by breaking his maiden in his fourth try in a race at a mile and seventy at the Meadowlands. From there, trainer Nick Zito started Ice Box's Derby path with an N1X Allowance race followed up by his first try against graded stakes company in the Fountain of Youth. He could only manage a 5th place finish behind runaway winner Eskendereya that day, but was only 3 ½ lengths behind the second place horse, Jackson Bend. Ice Box secured his spot in the Derby by nosing out Pleasant Prince at the wire to capture the Florida Derby on March 20th.
What has to happen for him to win: As a true-blue, stone-cold closer, Ice Box needs pace to run at, and a lot of it. Fortunately for this colt, he should get exactly that with a Kentucky Derby that looks to possess an abundance of speed horses. Of course, getting a hot pace won't be enough on its own to ensure victory since it's likely that Ice Box will have to pass the majority of the field in the stretch in order to win. Jockey Jose Lezcano will have to skillfully navigate in and around horses in order to give his mount a chance to win.
I've got Ice Box as the co-third choice on my odds line with Awesome Act. I ranked him ahead of Sidney's Candy due to his running style, which I think will be more advantageous in this year's Derby, and I have him ahead of Noble's Promise due to his form. The lay-off from the Florida Derby is a little bit of a concern and I would have liked to see this colt with another race under his belt prior to going to Churchill. However, given his running style, I'm not sure it's as important that he come in razor sharp as it is for Eskendereya, Lookin At Lucky, or any horse that plans on doing some running in the early stages of the race.
Ice Box should get some pace to run at, and it looks like it will be pretty hot, but it's the traffic issues that are most critical to his chances. Pedigree shoudn't be an issue as he's got plenty of stamina influences on the bottom half.
Key Race: Grade 1 Florida Derby (1st)
I didn't like this race when I watched it live but I've reversed my outlook once I compared it to other preps this spring. The thing that most impressed me about Ice Box in this race was his ability to really pick it up once he was swung wide coming off the turn. In the race replay, we don't even see this colt enter the picture until the 1:41 mark when he comes flying wide off of the turn full of run. Some closers will stammer a little bit when asked to make that move but Ice Box was full of run once Lezcano asked him for more. It certainly helped that the pace went 1:10+ for six, but he wasn't staggering to the line.
If Ice Box is able to unleash a similar run off the turn in the Derby (and avoid the other horses in his way), he'll have the very long Churchill Downs stretch to wear down the leaders. It's going to be a tough task, but the race may set up very well for him to get it done.