Now that more than four months of the 2010 racing season have passed, we are just beginning to get a glimpse of what the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) might look like in November.
We know that defending champ Zenyatta is still perfect and pointing toward a repeat, Quality Road is the “Beast of the East,” Rail Trip is the top older male out West, Blame has returned from a layoff without a hiccup and is poised for a huge season, Rachel Alexandra is still not in top form but getting close, and Battle Plan is beginning to look like a very serious horse. Meanwhile, the top 3-year-olds are sorting themselves out and will be doing so all summer long.
Hmmm…why does it still feel like we’re leaving out a major name? There must me one…Oh yeah: Summer Bird.
With all the hoopla surrounding Zenyatta and Rachel at the end of 2009, and the Triple Crown occupying our thoughts for the first few months of this year, it’s been easy to forget about Summer Bird. Out of sight, out of mind.
It is not easy, however, to forget about the historic 3-year-old season Summer Bird put together in 2009. The late-blooming colt, who didn’t break his maiden until last March, won the 2009 Belmont Stakes, Shadwell Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup (all gr. I), becoming the first horse since Easy Goer in 1989 to win those three races in a single year en route to being named champion 3-year-old male.
But since the son of Birdstone ended his sophomore season with a solid fourth in the BC Classic at Santa Anita, a lot has happened. Most notably, he suffered a condylar fracture in his right front leg in December while training for the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I). After he recovered from surgery, Summer Bird was removed from the barn of Tim Ice and given to trainer Tim Ritchey. The owners, Drs. K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman, had a falling out with Ice and removed all 25 of their horses from him in February.
Since being placed in Ritchey’s Delaware Park barn in mid-March, Summer Bird has been galloping regularly. Ritchey said he is about two weeks from having his first official breeze.
“He’s doing great; he’s 100%,” Ritchey said May 18. “It was a very minor hairline fracture and it did not involve any joints. He has been galloping steadily.
“It’s always nice to pick up a horse of his caliber. He has a lot of class. He does things the right way; he does it easily. He travels well and moves well. He’s a true distance horse who should get ever better as a 4-year-old.”
Ritchey said he would like to race Summer Bird “three or four” times before the Breeders’ Cup. He would not say what race he had in mind for the colt’s comeback, but did say all the major handicap races this summer—including the Whitney and Woodward (both gr. I) at Saratoga—were possibilities.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I have a bunch of races penciled in,” said Ritchey, who trained dual-classic winner Afleet Alex. “It’s hard to say right now, but the Breeders’ Cup is our major goal. That’s what we’re working toward.”
A homebred, Summer Bird is out of the Summer Squall mare Hong Kong Squall. He has produced a 4-1-1 record from nine starts with earnings of $2,323,040.