Underdogs in Horse Racing: Ice Box

Apr 03, 2023 Sara Dacus TwinSpires.com

Ice Box reached his apex in the Kentucky Derby (G1), rallying from nineteenth to finish second behind Super Saver in one of the unluckiest trips in the race’s history. This performance earned him top billing in the Belmont (G1), but the chestnut colt never won another race.

He is a son of Pulpit, the runner-up of the 1997 Florida Derby (G1) and fourth place finisher in the Kentucky Derby who went on to be an outstanding sire. Owner Robert LaPenta purchased Ice Box for $125,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling sale.

LaPenta was born in Yonkers, NY, and his mother introduced him to thoroughbred racing. He first became an owner in 1998 in partnership with former NCAA and NBA basketball coach Rick Pitino. LaPenta opened his own operation in 2001 with eight yearlings.

Before Ice Box, LaPenta had experienced longshot success: he owned Da’ Tara, who won the 2008 Belmont at 38-1 when Big Brown failed in his attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Belmont was one of Da’ Tara’s two career wins from 19 starts.

Trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, Ice Box found the winner’s circle in his fourth career start, a maiden special weight at the Meadowlands. He notched a second victory in his following effort, this time an allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Next, he jumped up in class for the Fountain of Youth (G2), where he broke slowly and got stuck five wide on the final turn and finished fifth.

Entering the Florida Derby at 20-1, overlooked Ice Box fell into last place. This time, when he found himself five wide, he rallied from the top of the stretch and got up at the wire to win by a nose, granting him a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

Super Saver (Photo courtesy of the Turkish Jockey Club)

The track was rated sloppy for the Run for the Roses, but the race unfolded in a scenario familiar to Ice Box’s connections. In the early stages, Ice Box, 11-1 on the morning line odds, had only one horse in the field of twenty behind him. He rallied, only to be blocked nearing the stretch. His jockey, Jose Lezcano, swung him to the outside for a clear path. In all, he closed nearly 20 lengths. Super Saver was gone, giving jockey Calvin Borel his third victory in the race, but Ice Box took second by a neck from Paddy O’Prado, salvaging what he could from an ill-fated trip. The $2 exacta paid $152.40.

“I said I needed Moses (to part the Red Sea), but he only did it once and that was for millions of people,” Zito said.

Ice Box skipped the Preakness S. (G1) and was sent off in the Belmont as the 9-5 favorite. However, he was never involved and finished ninth. Drosselmeyer won at 13-1.

'Obviously I’m disappointed about Ice Box,” Zito said after the race. “He didn’t deal with the heat well today. We’ll have to regroup and see what happens.”

Ice Box never saw the winner’s circle again. He continued to run in high profile races, including the Haskell (G1), Travers (G1), and Woodward (G1), but he was unable to replicate the magic of the Florida and Kentucky Derbies. In his final start, Ice Box finished eighth in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), beaten by only four lengths. Drosselmeyer was again victorious.

Ice Box retired with a record of 3-1-1 from 16 starts and earnings of $948,068. In these performances, he defeated 17 Grade 1 winners.

Ice Box moved on to a stallion career, and Dream Walkin’ Farm, the Oklahoma-based Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation owned by country music star Toby Keith, purchased an interest in him. He has stood at several farms, and currently resides at Cabin Creek Farm in Bernville, Pa.

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