Summer Bird seeks historic win in Jockey Club
Back in May, a chestnut son of 2004 Belmont S. (G1) 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 three-year-old has in 20 years: win the Belmont S., Travers S. (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in the same year.
Saturday at Belmont Park, SUMMER BIRD (Birdstone) 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 $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The 1 1/4-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. (EDT).
"Any Grade 1 race is important, but when you add onto it the historical significance of Easy Goer being the last three-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. "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 (Macho Uno), DRY MARTINI (Slew Gin Fizz) and ASIATIC BOY (Arg) (Not for Sale), as well as another outstanding sophomore in QUALITY ROAD (Elusive Quality), who was third in the Travers.
The second choice at 5-2 on the morning line, Quality Road set track records in both the Florida Derby (G1) and the Amsterdam S. (G2) 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," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Our focus is hoping our horse does well."
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 addition to Easy Goer, Man o' War (1920) and Arts and Letters (1969), three-year-olds who have won the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup include Twenty Grand (1931), One Count (1952), *Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967) and Temperence Hill (1980).
"This year, the three-year-olds, the survivors, are pretty strong," observed Barclay Tagg, who will saddle six-year-old Suburban H. (G2) 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 Macho Again, winner of the Stephen Foster H. (G1) at Churchill Downs earlier this year, and Asiatic Boy exit an encounter with another three-year-old -- the super filly Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d'Oro), winner of the Woodward S. (G1) at Saratoga on September 5. Six-year-old Asiatic Boy, who is 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 in the nine-furlong race.
"He's a top horse, championship caliber," trainer Dallas Stewart said of four-year-old Macho Again. "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.
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 (Dynaformer) and TIZWAY (Tiznow), carry 126 pounds.
Earlier on the Super Saturday card, MUSIC NOTE (A.P. Indy) will take on four rivals in the $600,000 Beldame S. (G1). The Saeed bin Suroor-trained four-year-old was a dynamo last year, reeling off Grade 1 victories in the Mother Goose S., Coaching Club American Oaks and Gazelle S. followed by a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (G1). She wasn't seen again until returning with a dull fifth in the Ogden Phipps H. (G1) at Belmont Park on June 13, but rounded back into form in a big way last out, dominating the seven-furlong Ballerina S. (G1) by 5 1/4 lengths on Saratoga's sloppy main track.
"It was a little disappointing," assistant trainer Henry Spiller said of Music Note's Ogden Phipps run. "She was shorter than we thought after the layoff. She was stiff behind, and we did hind-end work. She progressed all summer and came up with a huge race in the Ballerina."
Spiller did not sound concerned about making the jump from the seven-furlong Ballerina to the nine-furlong Beldame.
"It's slightly different," he said, "but she's proven at one turn, nine furlongs around here."
Trainer Todd Pletcher will seek to upset the 2-5 morning-line favorite with a three-horse attack, led by UNBRIDLED BELLE (Broken Vow) and CAPTAIN'S LOVER (SAf) (Captain Al). Pletcher also will run WITH FLYING COLORS (A.P. Indy), a daughter of four-time Grade 1 star My Flag (Easy Goer).
Unbridled Belle is nearing the end of a distinguished career. She won the 2007 Beldame and dominated the Obeah H. (G3) by 11 lengths earlier this season, but in her most recent start, she gave way in the Personal Ensign S. (G1), finishing last. Pletcher allowed Unbridled Belle to remain at Saratoga after the loss, and she has responded.
"With the track being quiet, it helps," said Barry Irwin, president of owner Team Valor. "It's her last or second-to-last race. She'll be bred to Medaglia d'Oro."
Pletcher said he was "puzzled" by Unbridled Belle's run in the Personal Ensign, but said the six-year-old mare did not take to the track, which was drying out from a muddy condition.
"The weather is going to be a key part for Unbridled Belle," Irwin said. "She's run only once well on an off track at Delaware. If it's dry, we'll be as hopeful as ever."
In the five-year-old Captain's Lover, Team Valor has the winner of the prestigious Cape Fillies Guineas (SAf-G1) in 2007 and a recent winner of the Matchmaker S. at Monmouth. That race, taken off the turf, was a revelation about the mare, who had run exclusively on grass.
"This filly, we ran her a couple times in France. When we came here, we thought she was a miler on grass, and her best race came on a sloppy track in the Matchmaker," Irwin said. "She loved it. Once she gets into her rhythm on dirt, she just keeps going and going. Pletcher has been impressed with the way she's trained with (top three-year-old sprinter) Munnings."
One race after the Beldame, FABULOUS STRIKE (Smart Strike) returns to the site of his 2007 Vosburgh S. (G1) victory in hopes of adding a second score in that $400,000 race to his record. The six-year-old will only face four rivals in the six-furlong test, which he won by 5 3/4 lengths in 2007 and just missed by a head in last season.
He subsequently captured the 2008 Fall Highweight and Gravesend H. (G3) at Aqueduct, and finished second in the Carter H. (G1) there this spring. On Belmont Stakes Day, he won the True North H. (G2) and, most recently, outfinished GO GO SHOOT (Songandaprayer) to add the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G2) at Saratoga to his resume.
"It's been a heck of an experience having him in the barn and training him and learning what he prefers the best," trainer Todd Beattie said of Fabulous Strike, who will be coming off a nearly two-month break in the Vosburgh. "He prefers to have some amount of time from race to race. And he spins it pretty hard during the race, so he needs that kind of time to recover, you know, to get him at his peak. So (not having raced since August 9) was really by design. I think that's an advantage for me to have that amount of time."
Ramon Dominguez, New York's leading rider, will be back aboard Fabulous Strike in the Vosburgh.
"(Ramon) has been a major player and part of this team," Beattie said. "I think that's really good for Fabulous Strike."
In the Vosburgh, Fabulous Strike will not only be back on familiar ground but will be seeing some familiar foes, as well.
Also coming back from the Vanderbilt is Go Go Shoot, who had scored a pair of stakes wins at Monmouth Park before yielding late to Fabulous Strike in the Vanderbilt. KODIAK KOWBOY (Posse), third in the Vanderbilt, goes back a bit further with Fabulous Strike -- third in the 2008 Vosburgh, Kodiak Kowboy won the photo over Fabulous Strike in this year's seven-furlong Carter. Most recently runner-up in the Forego S. (G1) at Saratoga, Kodiak Kowboy will be making his first start for Steve Asmussen.
Taking on older horses for the second time is MUNNINGS (Speightstown), who defeated his elders in winning the Tom Fool H. (G2), and subsequently finished third in the Haskell Invitational (G1) and King's Bishop S. (G1), both over off tracks.
Completing the Vosburgh field is PEACE CHANT (War Chant), most recently 10th in the Forego.
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