Won at 3BELMONT S.
(gr. I , 12f , defeating Dunkirk, Mine That Bird, Charitable Man, Luv Gov, Flying Private, Brave Victory, Mr. Hot Stuff, Chocolate Candy, Miner's Escape ).
The 141st Belmont Stakes (gr. I) proved one thing: You can crown two birds with one stone. The wild and unpredictable 2009 Triple Crown came to a fitting conclusion June 6 when 11-1 shot Summer Bird captured the Belmont, upsetting 6-5 favorite Mine That Bird, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and BlackBerry Preakness (gr. I) runner-up.
The victory enabled Birdstone to accomplish the feat of siring two different winners of a Triple Crown race in the same year. That hadnÕt been done since Count Fleet sired 1951 Kentucky Derby winner Count Turf and Belmont winner Counterpoint. The fact these colts came from BirdstoneÕs first crop is even more amazing.
Ironically, both sons of Birdstone entered the Triple Crown picture on the same day when it was announced April 17 that Summer Bird, trained by Tim Ice at Louisiana Downs, and Mine That Bird, trained by Bennie ÒChipÓ Woolley Jr. at Sunland Park, would compete in the Kentucky Derby. The first reaction by most people was, ÒWho the heck are Tim Ice and Chip Woolley?Ó
Well, seven weeks later, Woolley is a household name and Ice is on the verge of becoming one.
After the announcement, both trainers set off on their own road adventures, accompanied by an exercise rider and a little-known Thoroughbred that would bring them fame and riches beyond their wildest imagination.
Mine That BirdÕs New Mexico to New York odyssey, covering some 3,000 miles, most of it by trailer and pickup truck, read like a novel, becoming the most compelling human/animal travelogue since John SteinbeckÕs cross-country journey with his French poodle in Travels With Charley. Like Charley and Steinbeck, Mine That Bird and WoolleyÕs relationship became, as the author wrote, ÒA bond between strangers.Ó
Receiving far less publicity was Ice, exercise rider Chris Trosclair, and Summer BirdÕs 33-hour journey by car and horse van from Shreveport, La., to New York in their quest for the third leg of the Triple Crown, a race Ice and Drs. Kalarikkal K. Jayaraman and his wife, Vilasini Devi, who own and bred the colt, had been pointing for since Summer BirdÕs surprising third-place finish April 11 in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II). They were encouraged by Summer BirdÕs sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 43-1, in which he made a big run on the far turn, only to be fanned some seven-wide under jockey Chris Rosier.
After returning to Louisiana, the trio left Shreveport at 4 p.m. May 17 and arrived in Louisville, Ky., at about 4 a.m. the following morning, where Summer Bird was allowed to unwind for 10 hours and get some sleep. Then it was back on the road for the 11-hour drive to Belmont Park, with Ice and Trosclair going on ahead of the van to prepare for Summer BirdÕs arrival. What made the trip special for Trosclair, a 19-year-old student on temporary hiatus from Louisiana State University, was that the horse was vanned by his father, AngeloÕs, horse transportation company. The elder Trosclair had been a rider on the Louisiana circuit for many years.
When Ice and Trosclair arrived at Belmont, they were informed Summer Bird would be stabled in the barn of Nick Zito, who trained Birdstone to an historic upset over Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes at odds of 36-1. That was the first good sign. Ice kidded with Zito, asking if he could keep Summer Bird in BirdstoneÕs old stall.
With the racing world still abuzz over Rachel AlexandraÕs epic victory over a fast-closing Mine That Bird in the Preakness, few took notice of Summer BirdÕs arrival at Belmont Park three days later at 5:30 a.m.
Ice had originally announced that Joe Talamo would ride Summer Bird in the Belmont, but when Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux became available following the Preakness, Ice decided to go with the more experienced rider who had more familiarity with the sweeping Belmont oval. Of course, it didnÕt hurt that for five years Ice had been an assistant to DesormeauxÕs brother, Keith.
The first crucial test came May 23 when Summer Bird had his first work over the Belmont surface. Unfortunately, the colt did not get high grades, breezing seven furlongs in 1:272Ú5, and didnÕt appear to be handling the track, spinning his wheels a good part of the work. That was not what Ice had been hoping to see, and he expressed his disappointment. But he also knew the reason he decided to come to Belmont early was to get the colt accustomed to the track, which often takes some getting used to. Woolley had taken a different approach with Mine That Bird, shipping him back to Churchill Downs instead of heading up I-95 for the relatively short drive to New York.
ÒThis is why weÕre here early, to give him three weeks over the track,Ó Ice said following the work. ÒHeÕs just coming off a 23-hour trip up here, not counting the 10 hours at Churchill. He trained for three days before the work, and I thought it would take him five or six days to really get a hold of it.Ó
Meanwhile, everyone was waiting for word on the Belmont status of Rachel Alexandra. Finally, almost two weeks after her Preakness victory over an unlucky Mine That Bird, owner Jess Jackson, following his fillyÕs Vogue magazine photo shoot, made the expected announcement at 5 p.m. Friday, May 29, that Rachel needed a vacation and would not run.
That left the Belmont Stakes without a horse trying for the Triple Crown or a rematch between the Derby winner and the femme fatale who had defeated him in the Preakness.
As industrial tycoon Arthur Jensen tells mad newscaster Howard Beale in the movie Network, ÔYou have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale.Ó
But there was still a Belmont to be run. Following the Kentucky Derby, Ice had decided to put blinkers on Summer Bird for the Belmont, and he also had them on for the coltÕs works.
ÒDr. J. and I talked about it, and we decided to put them on right after the Derby,Ó Ice said. ÒThe first time around he was looking up into the grandstand, and we thought if we could get him focused a little bit more when he breaks out of the gate, he could lay a little bit closer and not fall so far out of it.Ó
For Summer BirdÕs second work, Ice added toe grabs to the coltÕs hind shoes, allowing him to get a better hold of the track. On May 30, Summer Bird breezed five furlongs in 1:014Ú5 with Desormeaux aboard. This time he went over the track with more authority and galloped out strongly.
This was what Ice was hoping to see. Everything was now in place for a big effort. Ice already knew Summer Bird was doing fantastic physically, having seen him fill out since the Derby. During his stay at Belmont, the colt hadnÕt missed an oat, was feeling good all the time, and was obviously thriving in his new surroundings.
On June 1, Ice had Summer Bird out for his afternoon grazing. The coltÕs coat was resplendent as he ripped into the grass with great vigor, barely finding the time to swallow.
ÒNickÕs gonna run me out of here before too long; heÕs eating up all his grass,Ó Ice said. ÒHeÕs eating everything. Whenever he gets by the trees, he thinks heÕs a giraffe and starts eating the leaves off them.Ó
It was quiet times like this that Ice, a former assistant to Cole Norman, was able to reflect on all thatÕs happened to him after only one year of training on his own. Here he was about to celebrate his 35th birthday on the day of the Belmont Stakes, in which he had a legitimate contender. The following day he was scheduled to have a photo shoot from atop the Empire State building, his first visit to New York City. His wife, Heather, is expecting their first child Sept. 29. And as he points out, his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers (he was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, about 25 miles from Pittsburgh) are Super Bowl champs.
ÒItÕs all unbelievable,Ó he said. ÒIÕm just enjoying it one day at a time. ItÕs an honor to be in this position so early in my career. You dream about it, but very few people get to experience it. I might not be back ever again, but at least I can say I was there once.Ó
Ice then got shaken back to reality by a call from Dr. Jayaraman, a retired cardiologist, saying he and Vilasini, a retired pathologist, were nearing Belmont Park. The Jayaramans were on a road trip of their own, driving up from Ocala, Fla., in their GMC Acadia, staying overnight near Baltimore to break up the 16-hour drive.
When they arrived, they walked up to Summer Bird as he grazed and loved what they saw. ÒSee how much weight heÕs put on?Ó Ice said. ÒHeÕs filling out beautifully.Ó
ÒTim deserves all the credit,Ó Dr. J, as he is known, said of his trainer.
But Ice also gives credit to Jayaraman for giving Summer Bird, who is out of the Summer Squall mare Hong Kong Squall, all the time he needed when he was young. ÒDr. J. wanted to let him mature and grow into himself,Ó Ice said. ÒHeÕs a pretty good size for a Birdstone, and he was one of the last ones of the 25 2-year-olds to be broken.Ó
The fact Ice still trains Summer Bird is amazing in itself. The colt originally was in the Southern California barn of John Sadler, who had him up to six furlongs in his works before telling Jayaraman in January to get him off the synthetic tracks.
ÒHe was doing poorly in his works, so I encouraged (Jayaraman) to get him out of here and put him on dirt,Ó Sadler said. ÒI thought he was a lovely horse, and I could tell even then he was going to be a route horse. I really liked him, but if I had kept him here, it wouldnÕt have been good for him.Ó
Jayaraman then sent the colt to Ice.
ÒHe showed us a lot before he ever ran,Ó Ice said. ÒWe stuck him in at six furlongs first time out (March 1 at Oaklawn) just to get a race in him, and he closed well to finish a good fourth. At the time we certainly werenÕt thinking Triple Crown. We were thinking we had a nice 3-year-old and we wanted to let him progress.
ÒAfter he broke his maiden impressively (March 19), we figured weÕd give him a shot in the Arkansas Derby. We were pointing him for the Lone Star Derby (gr. III), but when he ran so well in the Arkansas Derby, we started thinking about the Kentucky Derby. HeÕs always shown a lot of class and heÕs such a determined horse, so I knew heÕd give us a good effort and I was very happy how he ran coming from so far back.Ó
There were other occasions where Ice nearly lost the horse. Bob Baffert tried to buy him for Bernie Schiappa after the Arkansas Derby and IEAH Stable came close to finalizing a deal for him after the Kentucky Derby, but both deals fell through because of a suspicious tendon that Jayaraman said the colt has had for a while but has never been a problem.
On the Wednesday before the Belmont, Mine That Bird finally arrived from Kentucky, this time by plane. The big story was Calvin Borel, who appeared on the Tonight Show, the David Letterman Show, the Today Show, and Good Morning America, just to name a few. Although he was in New York for several days leading up to the race, he decided not to take any mounts, which many felt was a mistake, considering BorelÕs lack of experience and success over the Belmont track. He then compounded it by guaranteeing Ò110%Ó that Mine That Bird would win. Borel, having won the Derby on Mine That Bird and the Preakness on Rachel Alexandra, was trying to become the first rider in history to sweep the Triple Crown on two different horses.
While all the attention was on Mine That Bird, Summer Bird was becoming more on the muscle each day, and Ice had him blow out down the lane June 3 to take some of the edge off. The following morning Ice wasnÕt happy having to jog Summer Bird 11Ú2 miles on the sloppy track. ÒI wish I would have jogged him three miles the way he felt,Ó he said back at the barn. ÒHe came back feeling way too good.Ó
A field of 10 was entered, with Mine That Bird, Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner Charitable Man, and Dunkirk the main attractions. Dunkirk, the long, lanky $3.7-million yearling, was the big question mark. He no doubt had the talent and the long, sweeping stride of a stayer, but his sire, UnbridledÕs Song, was a big question mark at 12 furlongs.
Blacksmith Ray Amato was amazed at how strong Dunkirk is in his hind end.
ÒHeÕs very tough behind,Ó Amato said. ÒHe snatches you in the back. He pulls his legs forward and you have to hang on. HeÕs so strong; one time he snatched me so hard he pulled my sciatic nerve and I was in a lot of pain. IÕll tell you what, though, (trainer) Todd (Pletcher) has had a ton of good horses over the past 10 to 12 years, but IÕve never seen him pay so much attention to a big horse as he has this horse.Ó
The two mornings Mine That Bird was out on the sloppy track, he just glided over the surface, turning in his usual powerful, professional gallops.
ÒIf thereÕs a racetrack he canÕt handle, I havenÕt found it yet,Ó Woolley said after watching him gallop. ÒThe way heÕs held up through the Triple Crown has been amazing. I kept waiting for him to draw up and get a little tired, but heÕs bounced through it all as strong as ever. HeÕs got a superior mind and attitude about him thatÕs really helped him a lot.Ó
WoolleyÕs travel companion, exercise rider and groom Charlie Figueroa, said he was sorry to see their magical journey nearing an end. ÒEverybody says ÔI bet youÕre ready to go home,Õ and I tell them, ÔDo you want to wake me up from my dream?Õ Ó he said. Ò ÔIÕve read about these races and these places all my life.Õ Ó
On the morning of the race, Woolley stood next to Mine That BirdÕs stall holding out his hand for several minutes while the gelding continuously licked his palm.
With the rain long gone, giving way to bright sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, the track dried out quickly, producing fast times all day.
Summer Bird at first didnÕt handle the detention barn very well. He was wound up after entering the old stakes barn and Ice had to walk him as the colt tried to buck and rear.
ÒTwice I thought he was going to bust out of his stall,Ó Ice said later. ÒHe was running at the webbing pretty hard. After he settled down, he went to sleep.Ó
Mine That Bird surprisingly was bet down to 6-5, with Dunkirk and Charitable Man co-second choices at 9-2. The start wasnÕt quite what anyone expected, with Dunkirk, breaking from post 2, going to the front, followed closely by longshots MinerÕs Escape and the stone closer Mr. Hot Stuff. Charitable Man took up a comfortable position in fourth. Desormeaux had Summer Bird tucked nicely on the rail in sixth, while Borel, who had made his way to the rail, opted to swing to the outside down the backstretch after a solid quarter in :23.41 and half in :47.13.
Dunkirk continued to lead by a length, with not much change behind him. The pace slowed a bit, the three-quarters in 1:12.43. Summer Bird still was down on the inside behind a cluster of horses as Borel moved Mine That Bird a bit closer. But Mine That Bird was heading wide into BelmontÕs notorious turn of no return, leaving him out in no-manÕs land, which normally results in horses flattening out badly by the time they hit the stretch.
Dunkirk maintained his advantage and was beginning to look dangerous until Charitable Man and Mine That Bird cut into his lead nearing the head of the stretch. But Mine That Bird was moving too wide and too early, losing way too much ground. Desormeaux, who had been bottled up in traffic, thought he had waited too long to pull out and begin his move, but when he swung Summer Bird to the outside passing the five-sixteenths pole, he loved what he felt.
ÒWhen I finally picked up where Mine That Bird was, I was a little bit disappointed,Ó Desormeaux said. ÒI was like, ÔHow am I going to catch him? HeÕs already in front of me.Õ But my colt just took off and exploded. After he changed leads, there was never any doubt. The only way I was going to get beat was if there was somebody behind me coming; he had dead aim at the leaders.Ó
Dunkirk, who looked like he was done turning for home, battled back gamely on the inside. Mine That Bird gained a short lead on the outside, as his fans, many of them from New Mexico, let out a huge roar. But it soon became obvious he had been given way too much to do, circling his field the entire run around the turn. He held a half-length lead passing the eighth pole, but a gutsy Dunkirk was coming back at him and Summer Bird was flying on the far outside. Dunkirk and Mine That Bird put the squeeze on Charitable Man, but he was already a beaten horse.
In a flash, the race was over, as Summer Bird blew by everyone and drew off to win by 23Ú4 lengths in a respectable 2:27.54 (2:272Ú5) for the 11Ú2 miles. In another bit of irony, the only other horse ever to win the Belmont in 2:272Ú5 (2:27.50 to be exact) was Birdstone.
Mine That Bird, who had probably run closer to 13Ú4 miles, was on empty, and Dunkirk was able to fight back and beat him by a neck for second, preventing a Birdstone one-two finish. Charitable Man was another 33Ú4 lengths back in fourth.
Desormeaux, after six attempts and several heartbreaking defeats, finally had his first Belmont victory, completing his own personal Triple Crown.
Woolley handled Mine That BirdÕs defeat graciously and congratulated Ice on his victory. ÒItÕs been a great run, and we had a wonderful time,Ó he said. ÒWeÕll be back. WeÕll be scratching and trying to get back here again.Ó
Ice was flushed with excitement as he headed to the track.
ÒIÕm losing my voice,Ó he said. ÒI was just yelling, ÔCome on Bird! Come on Bird!Õ He did it. I knew he would.Ó
Also choked with emotion was Trosclair, especially after convincing his father to make the trip for the race.
ÒThis is surreal; itÕs like a blur,Ó he said. ÒIt made it all worth it that we came up three weeks in advance. I put in all this time galloping him, and itÕs just amazing how it worked out after driving here for 23 hours.Ó
When Trosclair met up with Ice near the tunnel leading to the backstretch, the two embraced. All Trosclair said was, ÒHeckuva gallop, boy.Ó
Watching the race in the boxes with his family made it all the more special for Trosclair. ÒOriginally, they werenÕt supposed to come,Ó Trosclair said. ÒI told my father, ÔDad, heÕs training awesome, he feels great, and heÕs progressing every day. I have a great feeling about him.Õ He said, ÔYou know what, IÕm gonna take a little trip to New York.Õ He brought my mom, my little sister, and his brother. Being in their box for the race was an unbelievable experience. I still canÕt believe it.Ó
Summer Bird took care of business in the test barn quickly and was back in his stall when Ice and Trosclair arrived. Ice fed him mints, after which the colt tore into his hay rack and still seemed raring to go.
ÒHe looks like he wants to go out and do it again,Ó Ice said. Then, directing his comments to the horse, added, ÒYou need to hold your head high, boy.Ó
So ends one of the most wild and (pardon the expression) ÒWoolleyÓ Triple Crown series in history. The leading players started out as mere stand-ins but became overnight stars.
Ice was happy about one thing regarding his horse. ÒHe finally has his own name,Ó he said. ÒPeople from now on will call him Summer Bird. HeÕs no longer ÔThe other bird.Õ Ó b
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