Summer Bird continued his meteoric rise to the top of the nation’s 3-year-old ranks, as he rolled through the slop for an easy 3 1/2-length score in the $1-million Shadwell Travers (gr. I) (VIDEO) Aug. 29 at Saratoga.
Having made his racing debut less than five months ago, Summer Bird has won two of the most important races for 3-year-olds, first pulling an 11-1 upset over Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) victor Mine That Bird in the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and now a convincing victory in the “Mid-Summer Derby.” The chestnut colt duplicated the feat accomplished by his sire, Birdstone, who won both of those races back in 2004.
Owned by Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, and trained by Tim Ice, Summer Bird has gone over $1.5 million in earnings during his improbable ascent toward Thoroughbred racing’s elite.
"They can call him the other Bird if they want, but he's won the Belmont and the Travers. Take it from there," said Ice, who credited jockey Kent Desormeaux and the addition of blinkers as reasons for Summer Bird’s rapid improvement. “It was just a matter of getting the right trip and the way he handled the track.
“Winning this race means as much as winning the Belmont. I can’t say that I feel better about either one. For my colt to win the Belmont and come back and win the Travers, like his sire, Birdstone, and be the 30th horse to come out of the Belmont and win the Travers, means a lot.”
With Desormeaux in the irons, Summer Bird raced close to the pace the early stages of the 1 1/4-mile Travers, unlike his Belmont triumph when he came from well back. He was never far off the lead this time, as expected pacesetter Our Edge took the field through an opening quarter in :23.19 and a half-mile in :46.88 with Alan Garcia aboard.
Kensei, the Dwyer (gr. II) and Jim Dandy (gr. II) winner, stalked Our Edge through a half-mile and then took over as they continued through the backstretch under Edgar Prado. Kensei ran six furlongs in 1:11.12. Also up close the whole way was 3-2 favorite Quality Road, the record-setting BlackBerry Presents the 58th Running of the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Amsterdam (gr. II) winner.
Quality Road and Summer Bird moved together around the far turn as they set their sights on the new leader, Kensei, but it was Summer Bird who was faster. Summer Bird caught Kensei with his three-wide move approching the quarter-pole and was clear by two lengths with a furlong remaining. He went unchallenged through the stretch and bounded home to a no-doubt-about-it score. The final time on the “sloppy” main track was 2:02.83.
Hold Me Back rallied from last under Julien Leparoux to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Quality Road, who raced between horses on the far turn but came up empty in the stretch. Charitable Man was fourth, followed by Warrior's Reward, Kensei, and Our Edge.
“Within 200 yards I was camped out behind the leaders, galloping along,” Desormeaux said. “I saw an opportunity to clean him up, get him to the outside. From there, he actually tried to make the lead, he wanted to run.
“I spent the next half-mile, three-quarters, slowing him down, causing him to wait. As Tim and I know about the colt, he’s not sitting on a burst of speed but he can gallop them into the ground, so I got to the point ‘Let’s stretch them out from here, let them keep up with me.’ I got to my breaking point, which was the five-sixteenths, and let him go. He took off, full of run. Thank goodness for the Jumbotron, I was never nervous because could see the field was well behind me.”
It wasn’t until March 19 at Oaklawn Park that Summer Bird broke his maiden at second asking. Less than a month later Ice threw him into graded stakes company and he ran well while finishing third in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II). The colt finished a respectable sixth in the May 2 Kentucky Derby before pulling off the Belmont shocker.
Summer Bird entered the Travers off a runner-up finish to superstar filly Rachel Alexandra in the Aug. 2 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at sloppy Monmouth Park. He is now 3-1-1 from seven starts with earnings of $1,573,040.
“I feel like I (have the best 3-year-old colt)," Ice added. "He beat Quality Road today. There was a lot of hype of him (Quality Road) going into the Kentucky Derby and nobody seemed to dismiss him coming off (the Amsterdam). I have a lot of respect for Quality Road and I have a lot of respect for my horse. So maybe he is champion 3-year-old colt right now.”
Bred in Kentucky by the Jayaraman’s, Summer Bird is out of the Summer Squall mare Hong Kong Squall.
The winner, sent off as the 5-2 second choice, paid $7.80, $4.30, and $2.70. The exacta (6-1) with 17-1 Hold Me Back paid $115.50. The trifecta (6-1-4) was $343.50.
Leparoux, who rode Hold Me Back for the first time, said: “He ran great today. I’m thrilled. We were second best, but he ran big.”
Quality Road, the probable Kentucky Derby favorite before suffering a pair of quarter crack injuries in April, was attempting to win the Travers in his second start off a five-month layoff and stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs in the Aug. 3 Amsterdam to 10 furlongs in the Travers. No easy task.
“I thought he was stuck in a difficult spot,” said trainer Todd Pletcher of Quality Road having to race behind the leaders early on and then being stuck between horses. “He ran well. I thought considering everything he ran a good race.”