Summer Bird continued his meteoric rise to the top of the Thoroughbred ranks, as he turned back fellow 3-year-old Quality Road to win the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) (VIDEO) by a length Oct. 3 at Belmont Park.
In doing so, Summer Bird seized a commanding grip on the 3-year-old male division and stamped himself as one of the favorites for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) next month at Santa Anita Park. Trainer Tim Ice said the son of Birdstone would be pointed toward that Nov. 7 race if he came out of the race in good order.
Owned and bred by Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, Summer Bird has now captured three of the most prestigious events in America in just his eighth month of racing. He scored in the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in only his fifth start, took the Aug. 29 Shadwell Travers (gr. I) convincingly, and conquered older horses in his first try in the Gold Cup. Summer Bird became the first horse since Easy Goer in 1989 to win all three of those races in the same year.
“It means a lot to win the three races in New York,” Ice said. “It’s been 20 years since a 3-year-old won the Belmont Stakes, the Travers, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I think it puts him in an elite group, and he should be named (champion) 3-year-old colt.”
Under Kent Desormeaux, 6-5 favorite Summer Bird followed Quality Road for most of the way in the 10-furlong contest. Quality Road, who was third in the Travers, tracked pacesetter Tizway under John Velazquez through an opening quarter-mile of :24.96, then took over nearing the half-mile pole (49.73). The son of Elusive Quality was still in front as he hit the far turn, but had company from Summer Bird, who raced wide while making his bid.
Those two were nearly even when they hit the quarter-pole, with Tizway the only rival within striking distance. Though racing wide, the two sophomores were well ahead of the rest of the field when they reached the eighth-pole. Summer Bird poked a head in front at that point and inched clear of Quality Road after a long stretch duel.
The final time of a “sloppy” main track was 2:02.51. Tizway was third, 6 1/2 lengths better than Macho Again, who disappointed as the 5-2 second choice.
“Unlike the Travers, he was completely off the bridle, just cruising along,” Desormeaux said of Summer Bird. “Once I positioned him, he was floating, completely turned off. At the quarter pole, he spit past Quality Road and he was idling.
“He’s trying to be the best horse I’ve ever ridden. He was awesome today. He pulled up quietly like nothing had ever happened.”
Velazquez was also pleased with Quality Road, the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Amsterdam (gr. II) winner from earlier this year.
“I don't think we’ve seen the best of him yet,” Velazquez said. “I'm not knocking (Summer Bird). The other horse ran a great race, too. I think my horse is better on a dry track. I would like to see both horses on a dry track to see which one is the best horse. (Summer Bird) had an advantage over my horse. He had been running all summer long.”
Quality Road’s trainer Todd Pletcher was non-committal when asked if his horse would go on to the Breeders’ Cup.
Summer Bird, who is out of the Summer Squall mare Hong Kong Squall, has now produced a 4-1-1 record from eight starts and has earned just over $2 million. His only blemish in his last four tries came in the Aug. 2 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park when runner-up to Rachel Alexandra.
The winner paid $4.50, $2.80, and $2.10. The exacta (3-7) returned $15.20, and the trifecta (3-7-4) was $95.
Dry Martini was fifth, followed by Sette E Mezzo, and Asiatic Boy.