The Brock Talk

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Closer Look At Summer Bird

It's not often a Belmont Stakes winner gets overlooked. (2008 winner Sarava excluded) With it's Triple Crown prestige and the 1-1/2 mile distance, the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) is often truly the test of champions as evidenced by it's many 3-year-old year-end award winners. Winners such as Point Given, A.P. Indy and Risen Star have been named champions without a Derby victory. However, with the arrival of Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra on the scene for the $1.25 million Haskell Invitational Sunday, Belmont winner Summer Bird is having to take a bit of a back seat.

But's that's not uncharted territory for Summer Bird and his trainer Tim Ice. Summer Bird was overlooked at 11-1 odds before winning the Belmont; went off at 43-1 odds before finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) and was let go at 26-1 before his solid third-place finish behind fellow Haskell contender Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 2). Not that there was something the betting public missed at Belmont, Churchill or Oaklawn Park. Prior to those races, Summer Bird had only a maiden victory in two starts to his credit.

The highlight section in each media guide under Tim Ice is a bit sparse as well below the Belmont mention. The 35-year-old Ohio native has only managed his own training operation since 2008 after serving as an assistant for 15 years under trainers Morris Nicks, Cole Norman and Keith Desormeaux.

Summer Bird also has no lucrative auction history as he is a homebred (meaning the current owners also bred and raised the colt) for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, both retired physicians. They first had a farm in Arkansas but now are based in Ocala, Fla., though the colt was foaled in Kentucky. The natives of India own Tiffany Farms and about 20 broodmares. The Jayaramans have been breeding horses for more than 20 years while racing primarily in Texas, Arkansas and Louisisana.

But there are some things to like about Summer Bird. His Belmont Stakes victory was impressive as he wore down front runner Dunkirk on a speed favoring track, (although Dunkirk went through very rapid early fractions for a 1-1/2 miles) and Mine That Bird who had the advantage of racing further back early like Summer Bird. In the Kentucky Derby, Summer Bird made a good run late while wide and closed ground to finish sixth, beaten 13 lengths by Mine That Bird but only some six lengths behind second-place finisher Pioneerof The Nile.

Summer Bird will also get the return riding services of jockey Kent Desormeaux, who has been on a winning tear since taking the Belmont this year. He won the grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park with Gozzip Girl, the Dixie Stakes at Belmont with Parading and the grade 2 Firecracker S. at Churchill with Mr. Sidney - not to mention his Hall of Fame credentials.

In order for Summer Bird to have a chance to catch Rachel Alexandra, he will benefit if somebody is able to challenge the speedy filly early in the race. If she is allowed to gallop along comfortably on the lead in the early stages of the race, it will be difficult for the late running Summer Bird to muster a rally. But he has been training up to the race well with two solid works at Monmouth Park since arriving from his home at Louisiana Downs July 3 and Ice has been quoted as saying he is training perfect. The added time at Monmouth should also be a benefit over Haskell contenders such as Rachel Alexandra who ship this week to Monmouth Park.

One more thing about Summer Bird that may help. According to Ice, he love's the mud and handled a sloppy Monmouth Park track well during his July 26 work. The surface was muddy and sealed after overnight rains swept through the area before the half-mile work in :49 with a first quarter in :26.

“He had a good strong work and he galloped out strong,” said Tim Ice. "Everything was great. I couldn’t be happier.”

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