Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Bird surprises in Belmont

Jay Privman, Daily Racing Form

ELMONT, N.Y. - It was the 65th anniversary of D-Day on Saturday. At Belmont Park, that stood for Desormeaux Day.

A crowd estimated by New York Racing Association officials at 51,000 was hoping to see Mine That Bird win the 141st Belmont Stakes and give jockey Calvin Borel an unprecedented sweep of the Triple Crown with two different horses. Instead, they saw Summer Bird, an 11-1 shot, overtake Mine That Bird in the final furlong and give jockey Kent Desormeaux sweet redemption for last year's Belmont, in which he pulled up Big Brown, who was going for the Triple Crown.

Summer Bird ($25.80) finished 2 3/4 lengths in front of Dunkirk, who held off Mine That Bird by a neck for second. Charitable Man was another 3 3/4 lengths behind Mine That Bird in fourth and was followed, in order, by Luv Gov, Flying Private, Brave Victory, Mr. Hot Stuff, Chocolate Candy, and Miner's Escape.

Charitable Man had to check while tiring in between Dunkirk and Mine That Bird with a sixteenth of a mile to go. Alan Garcia, who rode Charitable Man, claimed foul against Dunkirk, alleging interference, but the stewards did not see it that way and let the original result stand.

Summer Bird, wearing blinkers for the first time, completed 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:27.54. He earned a first prize of $600,000 from the Belmont's overall purse of $1 million for his owners and breeders, the husband-and-wife team of Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman. He is trained by Tim Ice, who celebrated his 35th birthday Saturday.

Ice has been training on his own for a little more than a year after being an assistant to several trainers, including Desormeaux's brother Keith. This was his first Belmont starter.

Summer Bird, like Mine That Bird, is a son of Birdstone, who won the Belmont in 2004.

Summer Bird was making only the fifth start of his career, which only began March 1. He had won just once previously. He finished sixth of 19 in the Kentucky Derby, 13 lengths behind Mine That Bird, but then was kept out of the Preakness to prepare for the Belmont.

Desormeaux is in the Hall of Fame but had never won the Belmont, and he had said that not having won the Belmont was a glaring omission on a resume that has three Derby wins and two victories in the Preakness. The Belmont had been particularly cruel over the years to Desormeaux. In addition to last year's race with Big Brown, Desormeaux just missed a Triple Crown sweep in 1998 when Real Quiet lost the Belmont in the final stride to Victory Gallop.

The Belmont victory capped a four-win day for Desormeaux.

"The colt broke like a rocket," Desormeaux said. "He dragged me around the racetrack. I had an armchair ride until I found some room, and when I found some room, he laid his body down.

"This race is about beauty, class, elegance. Reminds me of Sonia," Desormeaux said, referring to his wife.

Summer Bird got a gorgeous trip, hugging the rail for more than a mile before swinging out to rally.

"I was hoping when I had a chance to present this colt, he would increase his speed," Desormeaux said.

Dunkirk was the unexpected early leader, sent to the front from post 2 by jockey John Velazquez, but he was setting swift fractions for the distance of 23.41 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.10 seconds for a half-mile. The field began to bunch down the backstretch through fractions of 1:12.43 for six furlongs and 1:37.86 for a mile.

Mine That Bird, last in the 10-horse field early, began to creep up down the backstretch, then launched a bid four paths wide on the far turn. Dunkirk was boldly challenged by Charitable Man, and those two, along with Mine That Bird, were together after 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.66.

Mine That Bird led narrowly in the homestretch but began to weaken in the final furlong. Dunkirk re-rallied to claim second, but Summer Bird stormed past them to win.

Borel had won the Derby on Mine That Bird, but then took off the Derby winner in order to ride the filly Rachel Alexandra to victory in the Preakness. Had Mine That Bird won the Belmont, Borel would have been the only jockey to sweep the Triple Crown with two different horses.

Mine That Bird and Flying Private were the only two horses who ran in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown.

Borel said Mine That Bird "kind of came up empty." He said he "made a little early move," which trainer Chip Woolley also cited as a reason for Mine That Bird failing to sustain his rally.

"When you let this horse drift up, he's going to go," Woolley said. "It would probably be better if he was covered up on the fence. That's easy to say now."

Borel's only mount on Saturday was the Belmont. He had not ridden in six days, since the previous Sunday at Churchill Downs. He spent much of the past week in Manhattan with his fiancee, Lisa Funk.

Woolley said Mine That Bird would get at least eight weeks off before he races again. He said he envisioned three more starts this year, culminated by the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. He said "without a doubt" that Borel would remain Mine That Bird's rider.

The main track was whipped into excellent shape overnight, confirming Belmont Park's reputation for drying out quickly. Despite a steady, soaking rain on Thursday and Friday, clear weather overnight enabled Glen Kozak, Belmont Park's director of racing surfaces, and his crew to have the track lightning-fast by the first race on a day that turned out to be gorgeous, especially for Desormeaux.

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