Every year, the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) field contains a few sleeper horses, and this year is no different. After Summer Bird’s solid third-place finish in the April 11 Arkansas Derby (gr. II), his connections decided to enter the colt in the Run for the Roses.
“He doesn’t have the experience most of these do coming into the race, but he has the ability,” said Tim Ice, who trains Summer Bird for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman. “I don’t think the fact he has run three times is going to hurt his chances in the race.”
Summer Bird made first career start March 1 and broke his maiden March 19. Sent off at odds of 26-1 in the Arkansas Derby, he finished 1 1/4 lengths behind fellow Kentucky Derby contender Papa Clem.
Ice said that Summer Bird, who has run exclusively at Oaklawn Park, did not race as a 2-year-old because they wanted to give him plenty of time to grow and develop. Although the Birdstone colt will be Ice’s first contender in the Derby, it did not take the 34-year-old trainer long to end up with a horse in the race, as he opened his own stable just last year.
“I have the Jayaramans to thank,” said Ice. “They really started me out and stuck with me through the first part. Now we have this horse, and it’s turned out good for everybody.”
This will not be the first Derby for the Jayaramans, who finished seventh in the 1989 running with grade I winner Irish Actor. He was campaigned in the name of Tiffany Farms.
Ice currently has 19 horses in his care and will have 25 by the end of the month, once the rest of his 2-year-olds arrive. Although he has only been on his own for a short time, he has spent years in the Thoroughbred industry.
“My stepfather trained horses, so I have been in this business since I was 13,” he explained. “I grew up around it and have been with it ever since. I love it. There are so many parts, but I love winning races. I love horses, so just to be around them every day and getting to do something that I love makes it more gratifying.”
The Derby experience has been a good one for Ice, but his main focus has been getting Summer Bird prepared for the biggest race of his career.
“I am having fun, but at the same time, I have come here for one thing and that’s to get the horse ready for the Kentucky Derby,” Ice said. “Everybody has been nice, and I am enjoying it, but my main goal is to get this horse ready to run.”
One thing that may work in Summer Bird’s favor is the weather forecast, as there is a good chance of rain throughout the rest of the week.
“He’s always trained well in the slop,” said Ice. “There has been lots of rain at Oaklawn. He’s handling everything well. I thought he would. He’s an intelligent horse. How a horse handles all the crowds and everything plays a major role in how they run.”