Belmont Contenders Post-Race Statuses Updated

Belmont Contenders Post-Race Statuses Updated
Photo: Rick Samuels
Summer Bird

(Edited New York Racing Association Report)

Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Summer Bird obviously loves New York. He loves it so much that he could return this summer to run at Saratoga Race Course in the Aug. 1 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) and the Aug. 29 Shadwell Travers Stakes (gr. I).

“We’ve discussed the Jim Dandy and the Travers with the owners (Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman),” said winning trainer Tim Ice, his voice still hoarse Sunday morning from cheering Summer Bird home in the June 6 race. “If we go, like we did for the Belmont, we’ll go ahead of time, ship up a month before the Jim Dandy.

“People tell me you have to go to two places–Del Mar and Saratoga,” said Ice, who took out his trainer’s license 14 months ago. “I’ve been to Del Mar, and to take a horse like this and go to Saratoga would be amazing.”

Summer Bird, who was making only his fifth career start in the Belmont, came out of the 1 1.2-mile race in great shape, said Ice.

“I had him grazing for two hours,” he said. “He looks great.”

Ice, who celebrated his 35th birthday Saturday, said he thought there were several factors that contributed to Summer Bird’s victory, which was the second of his brief career.

“He had five weeks off, the horse is maturing, the jockey (Kent Desormeaux) is a Hall of Famer who knows Belmont Park and was our best shot, and I’m glad I came here early,” he said. “It took the horse a week to get used to the track. After I saw him train here the first three days, I put toe grabs on him (in back), and of course right after the Derby we were going to put blinkers on, and he was up closer.

“He’s done nothing but give me confidence,” he added. “When he two-minute-clipped on (June 3), he put confidence in me.”

Summer Bird, a homebred son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone  , will leave New York June 8 and be flown to Louisville. From there, he will be vanned to Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., which is Ice’s home base.

“I have about 25 horses there, and I picked up two new owners just in the weeks I’ve been here,” said Ice. “This whole thing is unbelievable. Watching the horse come down the stretch was like an out-of-body experience.”

Meanwhile, while the mood at trainer Chip Woolley’s barn was somewhat subdued the morning of June 7, his star gelding Mine That Bird showed no signs of exhaustion for his impressive effort running third in the Belmont Stakes June 6. 

“He feels awful good this morning,” said trainer Chip Woolley “Awfully bright and bouncing– he’s ready to get out and go do something.”

One look at the little gelding walking around the barn, peering inquisitively at the small crowd gathered outside bore this statement out. His trainer, stretched out in a lawn chair complete with footrest and cup holder for coffee, admitted a touch of fatigue. 

“Talk about whipped,” Woolley said. “About halfway through dinner last night I just said ‘Guys, I’m done,’ and I’m not that type at all. I couldn’t believe how I hit a wall last night.  I never thought I’d be sitting here sort of down about running third in the Belmont–this has been a lifetime dream.”

Although he is understandably disappointed by the loss, Woolley keeps it in perspective.

“When he was making for the lead as they turned for home, I was thinking ‘We’re in trouble,’” Woolley said. “It was just too early to make the lead here and I was really concerned we’d used a little too much horse in the turn. If you move too early with this horse, his past history shows he comes up empty. Tim (Ice) is a great guy and he deserves to win.  He’s done a nice job with his horse.”

Mine That Bird may not have come home a winner June 6, but his trainer is as impressed as ever with the son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone.

“There’s only one 3-year-old this year who made it through all three of these races and was right there all three times,” Woolley said. “The horse showed up every time. He’s the same horse he was when I led him over to the Derby, and I’m in love with what I saw here.” 

Mine That Bird will ship back to Churchill Downs at 6 a.m. June 8, and Woolley said they planned to spend the week in Kentucky and was still discussing Mine That Bird’s future with owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach. He hopes to get two good races into the gelding before the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in November.

“We’ll see what fits his schedule best,” Woolley said. “I’d rather keep him on dirt and against other 3-year-olds. It may be a couple of days before we make a hard decision, and we’ll for sure give him eight weeks off now. There’s a lot of opportunity out here (on the East Coast) more than anything out West, even in California.”

Woolley also named the Jim Dandy or the Travers among the options he was considering for Mine That Bird, but said the welfare of the horse would dictate his next move.  

Belmont Stakes second-place finisher Dunkirk also showed no signs of fatigue the morning of June 7 at trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn. Dunkirk   set the pace through a mile before dropping back, then coming back again to finish ahead of Mine That Bird by a neck.

“He put in a big effort and was tired after the race,” Pletcher said. “His energy levels seem to be up. He was bright and alert this morning. I was proud of his determination. It looked like at the quarter pole he was going to be surrounded by the Derby winner and the Peter Pan winner (Charitable Man), but he fought back. I have to give him a lot of credit for doing something like that.

The Belmont was the fifth start for the $3.7 million son of Unbridled's Song. Since winning his debut less than five months ago in Florida, Dunkirk won an allowance race and ran a game second to Quality Road in the Blackberry Presents the 58th running of the Florida Derby (gr. I) March 28.

“We felt back as far as November he was a top-class horse,” Pletcher said. “When he broke his maiden in January, we were thinking about races like this. He’s still probably a race behind his schedule.”

Pletcher’s goal for Dunkirk is also the Travers, as well as the Jim Dandy.

“The Travers is a key race for us,” he said. “The question is how we are going to get there. It’s going to be either the Jim Dandy or the Haskell Invitational (gr. I, Monmouth Park, Aug. 2). We think it’s ideal to give him two months of spacing in between races. The 3-year-old picture is still open. We’ll have to see if someone steps up and strings a couple of victories together.”

Trainer Kiaran McLauglin, though disappointed with Charitable Man’s fourth-place finish in the Belmont, said the horse came back in relatively good shape.

“He got nicked up a little, but otherwise, he’s okay,” McLaughlin said. “I said before the race that I wouldn’t trade places with anyone, and I still feel that way. He is a nice horse. I think the race track had a speed bias and the complexion (of the race) changed a lot when Dunkirk went to the lead.”

McLaughlin said he would regroup and look to races like the Jim Dandy, Travers, or Haskell.

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said both of his Belmont Stakes runners–seventh-place finisher Brave Victory and 10th-place finisher Miner’s Escape–were doing well the morning of June 7, although he admits that Brave Victory was particularly lucky.

“He got jumped on, and there is a gash on the back of his knee,” said Zito holding his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. “He missed nicking his tendon by this much.

“Miner’s Escape never had a chance. He stumbled and got squeezed at the start and Dunkirk got the jump on him. I don’t know if we’re ready for the big races later this summer, but those are the ones we like to run in. We’ll give them some time and see where they take us.”

Trainer Eoin Harty was still disappointed in Mr. Hot Stuff’s eighth-place finish in the Belmont. Mr. Hot Stuff, who was showed promise with third-place finishes in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and the Feb. 28 Sham Stakes (gr. III), raced close to the pace before fading after a mile.

“It didn’t work out to what we had expected,” Harty said. “We’ll take him back to California, start him easy, and see if he shows up again.”

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer of ninth-place Belmont Stakes finisher Chocolate Candy, has already returned to California but reports that the horse is doing well. Chocolate Candy is scheduled to ship out of Belmont June 8.  

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