Though his racing career began just seven months ago, Summer Bird has accomplished extraordinary things in a short period of time. The Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Shadwell Travers (gr. I) winner will try to defy the odds once again when he faces older horses for the first time in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Oct. 3 at Belmont Park.
Summer Bird, installed as the slight 2-1 morning-line favorite, will attempt to put a stranglehold on the 3-year-old male division in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup, but he will face a tall task. Not only will the son of Birdstone have to defeat a group of accomplished older horses that includes Macho Again, Dry Martini and Asiatic Boy, but he will have to once again take down Quality Road, who should be better prepared this time around.
“I think he’s up to it,” said trainer Tim Ice, who conditions Summer Bird for owners/breeders Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman. “He’s had seven races, and now is as good a time as any to face them. He looks super and he is doing excellent.”
A field of seven was drawn for the Gold Cup, which is the last of five grade I races on the Belmont card. Post time is slated for 5:43 p.m. EDT.
It has been quite a whirlwind four months for Summer Bird, who finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in just his third start before going on to win the Belmont at odds of 11-1 five weeks later. The chestnut colt then finished runner-up to super filly Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) before completing his incredible span by dominating the Aug. 29 Travers at Saratoga by 3 1/2 lengths. Both of his grade I triumphs came under Kent Desormeaux, who will have the mount once again. They will break from post 3.
Summer Bird has worked three times at Belmont since his Travers win, the most recent one a five-furlong breeze Sept. 26 in 1:02.40. On Sept. 30, he schooled in the paddock between afternoon races.
Out of the Summer Squall mare Hong Kong Squall, the Kentucky-bred Summer Bird has earned more than $1.5 million from his seven starts.
“Any grade I race is important, but when you add onto it the historical significance of Easy Goer being the last 3-year-old to win the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year, it’s very meaningful,” Ice said. "Horses like Man o’War and Arts and Letters did it. if Summer Bird could add this to his resume, it would speak volumes for him.”
Although defeated by five lengths in his third-place Travers effort, Edward Evans’ homebred Quality Road should be in a much better position to win the Gold Cup. The son of Elusive Quality was making just his second start in more than four months in the Travers and prepped for that race in the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam (gr. II), a winning effort in which he set the course record.
Winner of the Florida Derby (gr. I)—also in record time—Quality Road was diverted off the Triple Crown trail after a pair of troublesome quarter cracks forced him to the sidelines. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who took over conditioning duties prior to the Amsterdam, is expecting a top effort from the bay colt as he makes his first start at Belmont, where he is based.
“He’s run well everywhere he’s raced–Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, and Saratoga–so I don’t think it’s going to make a difference one way or another,” said Pletcher. “We’re hoping for fast conditions, and we’re ready to go.
“He’s always been kind of a push-button horse, but we’re really pleased with the way he’s training. He’s traveling well and doing everything you’d like to see a horse do leading up to a big race.”
Regular rider John Velazquez will have the mount on Quality Road (5-2) and they will break from 7.
Both 3-year-olds will carry 122 pounds and receive a four-pound weight break.
Leading the strong contingent of older horses is West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, who enters off a devastating loss to Rachel Alexandra by a head in the Sept. 5 Woodward (gr. I). In fact, the 4-year-old son of Macho Uno was runner-up at Saratoga twice this summer, also losing by 1 1/2 lengths to Bullsbay in the Aug. 8 Whitney Handicap (gr. I).
Winner of the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds and Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs earlier this season, Macho Again finished fifth in the 2008 Belmont Stakes in his only start at the racetrack. An earner of more than $1.7 million from 20 starts, the Dallas Stewart trainee will keep regular rider Robby Albarado.
“We’ll just see,” said Stewart when asked about facing Summer Bird. “You’re talking about the Belmont and Travers winner. (Macho Again is) a top horse, championship caliber. We’re looking forward to running.”
Macho Again (7-2) shipped in from his home base at Churchill Downs Oct. 1.
Carol Nyren’s Dry Martini has shown a fondness for Belmont this season, winning a pair of races there including the July 4 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) by two lengths in come-from-behind fashion. The Florida-bred son of Slew Gin Fizz was an even fifth in the Whitney in his most recent start. Edgar Prado rides for Barclay Tagg.
“This year, the 3-year-olds, the survivors, are pretty strong,” said Tagg. “We know Dry Martini likes this track. When you’re doing well and are comfortable on a track, you may have an edge.”
Asiatic Boy was runner-up in both the Stephen Foster and Whitney, and fourth in the Woodward. The 6-year-old Argentine-bred seeks his first win since returning from Dubai this spring, but is capable of a winning effort. He has won four international races in his career and earned more than $3.3 million from 18 starts. Alan Garcia will have the mount for Kiaran McLaughlin.
“He’s a neat horse, a nice horse,” McLaughlin said of the son of Not for Sale. “The weights have not been in his favor the last couple of races, and he’s been a notch below those who have been beating him. But he’s deserving of a chance.”
Completing the field are Tizway, fourth in the Whitney in his stakes debut, and Sette E Mezzo, who makes his first start on dirt since his racing debut back in March of 2008. Last out, Sette E Mezzo was third in the Aug. 28 Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga.
$750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I, Race 10, 5:43 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds and Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Sette E Mezzo (FL), R A Dominguez, 126, W I Mott
2. Macho Again (FL), R Albarado, 126, D Stewart
3. Summer Bird (KY), K J Desormeaux, 122, T A Ice
4. Tizway (KY), R Maragh, 126, H J Bond
5. Asiatic Boy (ARG), A Garcia, 126, K P McLaughlin
6. Dry Martini (FL), E S Prado, 126, B Tagg
7. Quality Road (VA), J R Velazquez, 122, T A Pletcher