Summer Bird pulls the upset in Belmont 141
For the second time in 3 years we’ve had each of the Triple Crown races won by different horses. In 2007 it was Street Sense, Curlin, and Rags to Riches. Now in 2009 it’s Mine That Bird, Rachel Alexandra, and Summer Bird. We mentioned in the pre-race handicapping that it would not be a surprise if the “other Birdstone” prevailed. With all of the attention focused on Mine That Bird, Charitable Man, and Dunkirk, the colt slipped under the radar and provided jockey Kent Desormeaux (who was white hot, winning 4 races on the day including 3 in a row at one point in the early going) with a perfect opportunity to atone for the disappointment of Big Brown in the 2008 Belmont.
Post time favorite Mine That Bird did what we thought he’d do. He ran his heart out and gave his best effort, but ultimately the ride by jockey Calvin Borel raised some eyebrows as many began questioning whether he asked the son of Birdstone for his run about a furlong or so too soon. It looked like Birdstone was a bit jumpy in the post parade, and about midway through the race he began giving Borel a bit of a fight, seeming to want to go at the horses to his front. After the job Borel has done this Triple Crown season, I think the guy deserves to be given some slack even if he did move a bit early. He’s only human, and it did look like the horse wanted to go.
Meanwhile, jockey Kent Desormeaux expertly piloted Summer Bird through a run that looked very Borel/Mine That Bird-ish. Patiently waiting at the back of the pack and positioned along the rail, Summer Bird eventually found a way through to the center of the track at the top of the stretch and then gunned down the dueling Mine That Bird and Dunkirk as Charitable Man began to fade. For a moment at the top of the stretch it looked like Mine That Bird, Dunkirk, and Charitable Man were going to give us a 3 horse battle right down to the wire. You can hear the wind being taken out of the crowd though as it became clear that none of these runners was going to resist Summer Bird’s powerful charge.
Dunkirk also turned in a gutsy performance, setting the early pace through splits of :23.31 and :47.13, much faster than many had anticipated. Many (including me) had expected Charitable Man and perhaps Miner’s Escape to set the early pace, but these two wound up taking behind Dunkirk in the early going along with Mr. Hot Stuff.
For being a longshot, Summer Bird sure made quite the post parade impression. I managed to tweet that he looked sensational as the field approached the gate. Luckily, at Amy’s urging, we put a quick win wager on him at the last second that came back quite lucrative. Summer Bird crossed the wire in 2:27.31 and returned $25.80 for the win after being sent off at odds of 11/1. It’s a good thing too, as we needed that win bet, having been bounced from the Pick 4 long before the Belmont when Gabby’s Golden Gal became the latest 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro to shine on the center stage, joining Payton d’Oro and the super filly Rachel Alexandra.
With the Belmont in the books, the Triple Crown season is now officially history. Hats off to Mine That Bird, Rachel Alexandra, and Summer Bird for becoming the latest champions. Let’s hope that this crop of 3-year-olds continues to shine on the race track. It’ll be good for racing if Mine That Bird can bounce back later this year. The “little gelding that could” is still a sensational runner. Hopefully the distance of the Belmont didn’t zap his energy. He’s probably earned himself a lengthy layoff at this point to rest and recover. Without a future standing stud, his connections will likely keep him racing as long as he’s healthy.
Speaking of healthy, can we all breathe a bit of a collective sigh of relief now? We made it through the campaign without any serious injuries while in the national spotlight (although we did lose some good ones along the trail to injury, including but not limited to The Pamplemousse, Old Fashioned, Quality Road, and I Want Revenge). We watched nervously as a full Derby field trudging along in the slop at Churchill. We argued about the safety and soundness of a filly taking on the boys in the Preakness. And now we’ve had the grueling 1 1/2 mile distance of the Belmont, and as far as I’m aware at this moment in time all of the runners from these races have returned in relatively fine shape. Maybe we can finally move past some of the more recent tragedies the sport has suffered? Not that we’d ever want to forget…more so from a closure standpoint. If not move past these memories completely, then at least take a step forward.
So where does this crop of 3-year-olds rank in comparison to those of recent memory? It’s still too early to say for sure. Probably somewhere between the talented group from 2007 and the relatively weak group of 2008 (besides Big Brown) would be my guess. Now we’ll see how they do when they begin to take on older horses for the first times this summer. Usually that’s a fairly significant challenge, but the ranks of the quality older horses have been severely thinned in recent years.
At the end of the day, I still feel confident in saying that the best horses in the nation are Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. If the versatile Einstein can take the Stephen Foster, then he’d certainly belong in the discussion as well. The point is that there’s plenty of room for runners like Mine That Bird, Summer Bird, Dunkirk, and any of the other Triple Crown competitors to come back and pick up additional graded stakes wins throughout the summer and fall.
For now though, congratulations to trainer Tim Ice and the connections for Summer Bird, and a big round of applause to Kent Desormeaux for his perfect ride. It may not have been the ending many expected, but it was still a beauty to behold.
And to think….right around the corner we’ve got Saratoga and Del Mar.