SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Triple Crown winner American Pharoah came up short in the $1.6 million Travers Stakes on Saturday, losing to 16-1 long shot Keen Ice before a sold-out and stunned crowd at Saratoga Race Course.
After American Pharoah finished second by three-quarters of a length, owner Ahmed Zayat said there is a "big chance" the horse could be retired.
"I feel that I've let the fans down. It's hurtful," Zayat said. "American Pharoah was showing all of us the signs of how incredible and special he is as a horse and what kind of champion he is. I really owe it to the game to race him. But again, I need to protect. I need to see why he didn't fire as he usually does. That's my ultimate concern right now."
American Pharoah made a clean break at the start but was stalked, then passed, by Frosted with about a quarter-mile to go. American Pharoah regained the lead, but Keen Ice and jockey Javier Castellano began closing and caught the Triple Crown winner, who could not muster the extra energy he usually finds, in the final strides.
"I feel bad for the horse getting beat like that," a disappointed trainer Bob Baffert said. "You can tell he wasn't on his A-game. Pharoah tried very hard. He didn't have the power he usually has.
"But we saw the last three-eighths was just guts and glory."
The upset solidified Saratoga's reputation as the "Graveyard of Favorites." Only one of four Triple Crown winners has ridden in and won the Travers -- Whirlaway in 1941.
"He's OK," American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza said. "Maybe just a little too much for him with the three weeks flying back and forth. He was running pretty comfortable there, but not like he used to before."
The Spa has been the scene of many racing upsets, including losses by two other Triple Crown winners -- Gallant Fox to 100-1 shot Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers and Secretariat to Onion in the 1973 Whitney Handicap. In addition, Upset handed the great Man o' War his only loss of his 21-race career in the 1919 Sanford Stakes.
"American Pharoah's legacy is not tarnished in any way," winning trainer Dale Romans said. "Secretariat got beat, Seattle Slew got beat, Affirmed got beat. They are great sportsmen for keeping him running and taking a chance with him. He has run very hard all year, and he ran a very good race today. He was pressed, [Frosted] took it to him, and we were fortunate to be running behind."
Keen Ice was a three-time loser to American Pharoah entering the Travers. Castellano picked up his fifth career win in the Mid-Summer Derby, and Keen Ice won for the second time in 11 career races.
"Anything can happen in horse racing, and that's what makes this a great game," Castellano said.
Frosted was third, with Upstart fourth and Texas Red fifth. Frammento and Smart Transition dead-heated for sixth, followed by Tale of Verve, Mid Ocean and King of New York.
The first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah had won eight straight races coming into the Travers, including the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2. Three of the last four Crown winners failed to win their second race after the Belmont Stakes, including Secretariat in 1973 and Affirmed in 1978.
Baffert has never had great success at Saratoga. The Hall of Fame trainer is now 1-for-6 in the Travers, winning in 2001 with Point Given. His Spa graded stakes record before the Travers was 8-of-59, a 14 percent clip, according to Equibase.
Before the Travers, the plan called for American Pharoah to close out his career in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 2 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. And then on to retirement to Coolmore's Ashford Stud.
American Pharoah had not lost since his debut in August 2014.
The Associated Press and ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.