Back in May, a handsome chestnut son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone arrived at Belmont Park with a little-known trainer, no jockey, and just one victory from four races on his resume.
Four months later, that same chestnut colt – a little bigger, a little stronger, and whole lot richer – has a chance to do what no 3-year-old has in 20 years: win the Belmont Stakes, Shadwell Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year.
Saturday at Belmont Park, Summer Bird looks to step up and join Easy Goer and the eight other sophomores who swept three of the biggest races in New York as he faces six in the 91st running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The 1¼ mile Jockey Club Gold Cup is the centerpiece of “Super Saturday” at Belmont Park, with four other Grade 1 races and a special first race post time of 12:30 p.m. Also on the card are the $600,000 Beldame, the $400,000 Vosburgh, the $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, and the $600,000 Joe Hirsh Turf Classic, with the latter four comprising a $500,000 Guaranteed All Grade 1 Pick Four.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup (post time 5:43 p.m. EDT) will be telecast live by MSG Plus, with coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m.
“Any Grade 1 race is important, but when you add onto it the historical significance of Easy Goer being the last 3-year-old to win the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year, it’s very meaningful,” said Tim Ice, who trains Summer Bird for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman. “Horses like Man o’War and Arts and Letters did it – if Summer Bird could add this to his resume, it would speak volumes for him.”
Although favored at 2-1 with Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux aboard, standing in the way of Summer Bird’s achievement are a cadre of older stakes winners, among them Macho Again, Dry Martini and Asiatic Boy, as well as another outstanding 3-year-old in Edward P. Evans’ Quality Road, who was third in the Travers.
The second choice at 5-2 on the morning line, Quality Road set track records in both the Grade 1 Florida Derby and the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga and has been training well since the Midsummer Derby.
“The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a very important race in its own right,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “Our focus is hoping our horse does well.”
Both Quality Road, who will be ridden by John Velazquez, and Summer Bird will carry 122 pounds in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while the older horses, including Sette E Mezzo and Tizway, carry 126 pounds.
In the 50 years since Sword Dancer did so in 1959, only a dozen sophomores have won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, most recently two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in his first of two back-to-back wins in 2007.
In addition to Easy Goer, Man o’War (1920) and Arts and Letters (1969), 3-year-olds who have won the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup include Twenty Grand (1931), One Count (1951), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967) and Temperence Hill (1980).
“This year, the 3-year-olds, the survivors, are pretty strong,” observed Barclay Tagg, who will saddle Carol Nyren’s 6-year-old Suburban winner Dry Martini, 8-1 with Edgar Prado riding. “We know Dry Martini likes this track. When you’re doing well and are comfortable on a track, you may have an edge.”
Both West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, winner of the Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs earlier this year, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum’s Asiatic Boy exit an encounter with another 3-year-old – the superb filly Rachel Alexandra, winner of the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course on September 5.
Asiatic Boy, 6, still seeking his first win in the United States, was fourth to Rachel Alexandra while Macho Again came the closest of any to beating her this year, finishing a head behind her in the nine-furlong race.
“He’s a top horse, championship caliber,” trainer Dallas Stewart said of 4-year-old Macho Again, who has a record of 6-6-0 from 20 starts including victories in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and a second in the Grade 1 Whitney.
“We’re looking forward to running.”
With Alan Garcia aboard, the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Asiatic Boy is 8-1 while Macho Again, with Robby Albarado up, is the third choice at 7-2.
The longshots in the race are Haras Santa Maria de Araras’ Sette E Mezzo, third in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch on the grass in his stakes debut, and William Clifton Jr.’s Tizway, who was fourth to Bullsbay in the Grade 1 Whitney, his first stakes start. With leading rider Ramon Dominguez up, Sette E Mezzo is 12-1 while Tizway, who will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh, is 15-1.