Belmont Stakes and Shadwell Travers winner Summer Bird wrote his way into the history books Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park, outdueling a game Quality Road through the stretch to win the 91st running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup. With the victory, Summer Bird became the first 3-year-old since 1989 to have won all three races in a single year.
The handsome chestnut colt is just the 10th sophomore and first since Easy Goer to string together victories in the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. The other 3-year-olds who have won the trio of prestigious races in New York are Man o’War (1920), Twenty Grand (1931), One Count (1951), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967), Arts and Letters (1969) and Temperence Hill (1980). All but One Count and Temperence Hill are Hall of Famers.
“I think it puts him in an elite group,” said 34-year-old Tim Ice, who trains the son of 2004 Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Birdstone for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman. “I think he should be champion 3-year-old colt.”
Ridden with confidence by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, Summer Bird raced well off the rail, not far behind longshot Tizway’s fractions of 24.96 and 49.73 over the sloppy track. Moving up eagerly when Quality Road took over with a half-mile to go, Summer Bird ranged up alongside the other 3-year-old at the top of the stretch, grabbed the lead for good with a furlong to go and edged clear to win by a length.
His time for the 1¼ miles over a sloppy track was 2:02.51.
“By far [his best effort],” said Desormeaux, who was aboard for the Belmont and Travers as well. “He was awesome today.”
Added Ice: “When he took the lead I was very confident no one was going to get in front of him.”
Sent off as the 1.25-1 favorite by the crowd of 7,000, Summer Bird returned $4.50 for a $2 win bet as he extended his record to 4-1-1 from eight starts, which includes a second-place finish to Rachel Alexandra in the Grade 1 Haskell on August 2. The winner’s purse of $450,000 increased his earnings to $2,023,040 for a career that began with a fourth-place finish in a maiden race at Oaklawn Park on March 1.
“He’s come a long way,” said Ice, who brought Summer Bird to the Kentucky Derby – in which he was sixth – off a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. “He came into this race better than he has in any other race. Each week, I kept wishing the race was this week.”
Quality Road, who had finished third behind Summer Bird in the Travers and was the second choice to the favorite, was 4½ lengths ahead of Tizway, who in turn was followed by Macho Again, Dry Martini, Sette E Mezzo and Asiatic Boy.
“I think he’s better on a fast track,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Quality Road for Edward P. Evans. “Summer Bird relishes this kind of surface. That's the way it goes. Sometimes, you get lucky [and] it rains when you need it to. Sometimes, it doesn't.”
The next goal for Summer Bird, whom his connections say will race again as a 4-year-old next year, is the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on November 7.
“We’ll take a couple of days and see how he is,” said Ice.