The Brock Talk

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bird Brothers Battle For Championship

Oh the competition among siblings. Following Summer Bird's "slapping in the slop" Shadwell Travers victory Saturday at Saratoga, one must wonder how voters are now leaning in the race for Champion 3-Year-Old Male. Never one to predict or at times even understand, the voters mindset in any election, I'm going out on a limb here and say they're set on that son of Birdstone. Ironically, it's two brothers - both invited to the Kentucky Derby on the same day only after other, more qualified 3-year-olds according to Derby conditions, dropped out due to last minute injuries.

On one hand we have the Kentucky Derby winner, ever popular, often troubled and maligned Mine That Bird (photo right). A star in Canada as a 2-year-old, and an also ran in El Paso early this year, Mine That Bird won the Run For The Roses at 50-1 with a late acceleration not seen in any classic in many years. Both Calvin Borel and Mike Smith have left him twice now in a bizarre year when they also ride historically good females Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

With four trips on Mine That Bird between them, Borel has an "A+" effort in the Derby but a kind "D" for moving Mine That Bird too early in the Belmont. Smith gets a trafffic riddled "B" for his ride on Mine That Bird in Preakness but a "C-" with a tough pace question in the easy West Virginia Derby class. Throw in a minor throat surgery, stolen papers, a trainer who can't walk but likes to drive instead of fly, the Derby announcer forgetting Mine That Bird's name in midstretch and I have to tell ya Steve Asmussen: Mine That Bird makes Kensei look like a first time starter with the Rodney Dangerfield thing.

On the other hand is Summer Bird (photo left). Bred in Kentucky and raised in Florida by his Arkansas owners orginally from India, Summer Bird was just another unraced 3-year-old in March, a maiden only winner in the grade 2 Arkansas Derby, a good six-place finisher as a longshot in the Derby, an 11-1 winner of the Belmont and no match for Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell. Trainer Tim Ice has all the name recognition of the Starlight Vocal Band but is at least no longer a one hit wonder with Summer Bird's Travers win.

Liike brother Mine That, Summer can run. He just has a different way of going about things. While Mine That Bird likes to lay back early and launch as if leaving Cape Kennedy, Summer Bird slowly orbits the track before hitting his thrusters as if using only his slower but steadier momentum for the success of the mission. Just as he did in the Travers.

Although he was much closer to the lead than jockey Kent Desormeaux had wanted, Summer Bird galloped along stalking longshot Our Edge and Kensei. Around the turn, with Desormeaux's hands remaining patiently motionless, Summer Bird seemed to widen his stride alone and had worn down the two leaders by the time Desormeaux allowed him to run at the top of the stretch.

Summer Bird became the 30th horse to win both the Belmont and the Travers, joining Birdstone who won both races in 2004. Many of those previous 29 became Champion 3-Year-Old Male including Point Given ('01), Temperence Hill ('80), Arts and Letters ('69) and Damascus in 1967. Now Summer Bird will try to join that group.

Much of that depends on his next two starts which appears to be the Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses on October 3 at Belmont Park before the Breeders' Cup Classic in November in California.

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