Summer Bird provided an appropriately quirky end to the 2009 Triple Crown series with an upset victory in Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes, ending jockey Calvin Borel's quixotic quest to sweep the Crown on two horses.
With all the races in the record, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont went to two colts and one filly. Borel won the first two on Mine That Bird and the filly Rachel Alexandra.
And Kent Desormeaux, who lost Triple Crown chances twice before in the Belmont, finally won the race with a nice stretch move on Summer Bird, getting his colt home 2 3/4 lengths ahead of pace-setting Dunkirk. Mine That Bird, winner of the Kentucky Derby, grabbed the lead at mid-stretch but couldn't hold on a finished third.
Summer Bird and Mine That Bird both were sired by Birdstone, who won the 2004 Belmont, ending Smarty Jones's Triple Crown hopes. That was one of the 19 times a winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes came to grief in the Belmont. Desormeaux's contribution to that record of misery came aboard Real Quiet, a nose loser to Victory Gallop in 1998, and Big Brown, who was pulled up last year.
Desormeaux was criticized for moving too soon on Real Quiet -- a question also posed to Borel after Saturday's race. Borel rode Mine That Bird to victory in the Derby by keeping him at the back of the field until the final turn, then making a dramatic rail move. Saturday, he let the colt begin his advance as the field approached the end of Belmont's long backstretch.
"When he was making for the lead as they turned for home, I was thinking 'We're in trouble,'" said Mine That Bird's trainer, Chip Woolley. "It was just too early to make the lead here and I was really concerned we'd used a little too much horse in the turn. If you move too early with this horse, his past history shows he comes up empty."
Borel said the early move was a combination of his mount wanting to go and the leaders coming back to him. "Like I said, maybe might have moved a little tad early," the veteran Cajun rider said. "But he took me there. Nothing I would have took away from the horse. I mean, when they moving that easy and the horses are coming back to you that fast, it might look like he got there quicker."
Ultimately, Woolley didn't seem to blame his rider. Asked if he will keep Borel aboard his star colt, the conditioner replied quickly, "Absolutely. Without a doubt."
That next race could be this summer at Saratoga and could be a rematch involving the top three in the Belmont and the fourth-place finisher, Charitable Man.
"We've discussed the Jim Dandy and the Travers with the owners ," said Summer Bird's trainer, Tim Ice, who has been training on his own only for 14 months. "People tell me you have to go to two places -- Del Mar and Saratoga. I've been to Del Mar, and to take a horse like this and go to Saratoga would be amazing."
He said Summer Bird, who finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and won for just the second time in five career starts, came out of the Belmont in good order. "I had him grazing for two hours," Ice said Sunday morning. "He looks great."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Dunkirk's goal also is the Travers, with perhaps a stop along the way in the Jim Dandy or the Haskell at Monmouth. "The 3-year-old picture is still open. We'll have to see if someone steps up and strings a couple of victories together."
In other weekend racing:
Sea the Stars sat well positioned at the front of the second flight early in Saturday's Investec Epsom Derby, quickly moved past the leaders when asked by jockey Mick Kinane and sent onto win by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, previously undefeated Fame and Glory, was second and Masterofthehorse was third. Sea the Stars, a Cape Cross colt, earlier won the English Two Thousand Guineas and has a chance to be the first English Triple Crown winner in 20 years. However, trainer John Oxx said he is not certain Sea the Stars will have the stamina for the third leg, the 1 3/4-mile St. Leger at Doncaster Sept. 12.
Sariska won Friday's Investec Epsom Oaks by a head over Midday. High Heeled was third. Sariska, under Jamie Spencer, lugged in after taking the lead and her victory was upheld only after a long stewards' inquiry. Trainer Michael Bell said she may contest the Irish Oaks July 7.
Vodka got past Deep Sky in deep stretch to win Sunday's Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Race Course in Japan by 3/4 length. Vodka, the defending champ in the 1,600-meter fixture, came into the race off a win in the Victoria Mile on May 17 and went to the post as the favorite. But jockey Yutaka Take had to wait for running room before getting the 5-year-old mare into gear in the stretch.
Fabulous Strike dueled for the lead through the first few furlongs of Saturday's $250,000 True North Handicap, then drew off and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Benny the Bull. Silver Edition finished third. Fabulous Strike, a 6-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred Smart Strike gelding, finished 6 furlongs on a track rated "good" in 1:07.85. Ramon Dominguez rode for trainer Todd Beattie. "He loves going six furlongs at Belmont," said winning trainer Todd Beattie. "I knew we were caught up in that 21 and 4 first quarter. But I also knew that (pace-setter) Sixthirteen had to run a lot faster because he started flat-footed. I felt comfortable that he was not going to run by us. I know the track had a speed bias, and I didn't mind that." Fabulous Strike now has a career record of 13 wins from 22 starts. At Belmont, he is 4-for-6.
Diamondrella took back early in Saturday's $400,000 Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares, came out six-wide entering the stretch and got home first, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of favorite Forever Together. My Princess Jess was third. Diamondrella, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Rock of Gibraltar, ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:36.49 for Rajiv Maragh and picked up her sixth straight win. Trainer Angel Penna Jr. said he was happy to see his mare could handle soft turf and her first try at a straight mile. "It's great we might have more on the horizon (than sprints). The Breeders' Cup is an awfully long way away -- we'll look at whatever is next, and take it from there."
Munnings finally moved beyond "promising" to the land of "winning" by taking Saturday's $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds, running away from the field in the stretch when jockey John Velazquez found a seam. At the wire, the Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt was 5 1/4 lengths ahead of Everyday Heroes with Kensei another head back in third. The 7 furlongs on a fast track went in 1:20.63. Munnings, a $1.7 million yearling purchase, won his first start at Saratoga last summer but had not visited the winner's circle since. He was third in the Hopeful, second in the Champagne and 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, then second in his first start this year at Churchill Downs. "We've always liked him," Velazquez said. "Now he's more mature and ready to roll. He saw the light and started to run. It has taken him some time to grow up and learn what to do but he's shown us he knows." Trainer Todd Pletcher said he is eyeing the King's Bishop, back at Saratoga.
Gabby's Golden Gal made all the pace in Saturday's $300,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then held on gamely to win by 1 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Justwhistledixie. Casanova Move was third. Gabby's Golden Gal, a Kentucky-bred Medaglia d'Oro filly, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.79 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Bob Baffert. She finished sixth after making the early pace for Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start -- a race Justwhistledixie missed after five straight wins. "The track is speedy today and the rail is very good," Castellano said. "That's the reason I took advantage. I knew handicapping the race there was a lot of speed in the race, but I broke on top and the filly gave it everything she had."
Gio Ponte was last after a half mile in Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, saved ground around the turn and then accelerated past the field down the middle of the course to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Marsh Side was third and the veteran turfer Better Talk Now was up for third with a late surge of his own. Gio Ponte, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Tale of the Cat, ran the 1 1/4 miles on yielding turf in 2:02.91 after tracking a fast-for-the-going early pace. Garrett Gomez rode for trainer Christophe Clement. "I was a little worried because I was so far back," said Gomez. "It seemed like I was a little further back than I needed to be … I squeezed him just a little bit in the middle of the turn and I looked up and they were starting to stagger, so I just sat there for a second, and you know he put in a nice run, ran a really good race. He's never really run a bad race for me and he continues to just get better with age."
Eldaafer was up in the last stride to nip pace-setting Nite Light and win Friday's $200,000 Brooklyn Breeders' Cup Handicap by a nose. Rising Moon was third. Eldaafer, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred A.P. Indy gelding, ran the 1 1/2 miles on a sloppy track in 2:31.58. Jorge Chaves rode for newly licensed, Delaware Park-based trainer Diane Alvarado. "We took the blinkers off," Alvarado said. "He likes to stalk. He has to have things his way. Jorge rode a good race. His owner was very confident and even said he was going to kiss any horse who finished in front of him. I was confident, but I wasn't going to kiss any horse."
Despite the Odds lived up to his name in Friday's $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds, dueling to the lead, then getting loose in the stretch to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Affirmatif contested the early pace and held second with Dubinsky third. Four of the original 10 were scratched when the race came off the turf. Despite the Odds, a Kentucky-bred colt by Speightstown, ran the 1 mile on a sloppy main track in 1:35.68 under Jeremy Rose. "I couldn't believe we went that fast," Rose said. "It was all about where he was comfortable today. It never seemed like he wanted to be on the lead any more than I did, and I had plenty of horse to finish up with."
Malibu Beach bested a trio of rivals in Friday's $65,000 Alyssuym Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, finishing a neck in front of odds-on favorite Reforestation. Pretty Katherine and Speculation completed the order of finish. Malibu Beach, a Kentucky-bred Tapit filly, led all the way and won by 3/4 length, finishing 6 1/2 sloppy furlongs in 1:17.12 with Ramon Dominguez in the irons.
J Z Warrior wore down pace-setting Dance Gal Dance in the final sixteenth to win Friday's $65,000 Glowing Honor Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths. Matchless Orinida finished third. J Z Warrior, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Harlan's Holiday, got the 6 furlongs over the slop in 1:10.86 for jockey John Velazquez.
Midships scored his third straight graded stakes victory in Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap. After stalking the pace patiently under Victor Espinoza, the 4-year-old Mizzen Mast colt went to the front at the top of the lane and then held on to win by 1/2 length over the onrushing Globetrotter. Artiste Royale was third with a late run from the back. Midships finished the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.51. In his two previous starts, the gray Kentucky-bred won the San Luis Rey and the San Juan Capistrano. "I just ignored (pace setter) Liquidity," Espinoza said. "I knew he was the longshot in the race and the distance was probably a little bit too far for him. I was worrying only about my horse. He went wire-to-wire the last couple of times, but I wanted to try something new today. I didn't want to get too far back, but I didn't want to use him too much on the backstretch. He was comfortable all the way around and the trip worked out perfect." Trainer Bobby Frankel won the event, formerly the Hollywood Turf Handicap, for the seventh time. That tied the record set by Charlie Whittingham.
Carlsbad got off to a relatively easy lead in Sunday's $150,000 Hollywood Oaks and then held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over Lady Lumberjack. Third Dawn was home third. Carlsbad, an Arizona-bred filly by Rocky Bar, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.59 with Tyler Baze aboard. She won her first five starts, then finished second in her last outing, the Railbird Stakes. "She's proved everything to everybody now," Baze said. "Last time we got into a wicked pace duel, had pressure all the way, and got beat by an undefeated filly. This filly's special. It's any distance with her."
Noble Court broke last of 11 in Saturday's $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap, came five-wide into the stretch and rallied between horses in the late going to win by 1/2 length over Rush With Thunder. Star Nicholas was third. Noble Court, a 5-year-old son of Doneraile Court, finished the 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:27.32 under Joel Rosario.
Strawberry Tart rallied strongly in the final sixteenth to capture Friday's $70,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths over Jehan. Fastongrass was third, just a nose farther back. Strawberry Tart, a California-bred daughter of Atticus, ran the 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.70 with Martin Garcia in the irons.
Acoma saved ground along the hedge until the second turn in Saturday's $100,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap for fillies and mares, got a seam between rivals at the top of the stretch and went through to win by a neck. Pure Clan fell just short with a rally of her own and Tizaqueena was well back in third. Acoma, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Empire Maker, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.1 under Corey Lanerie. She now has won all three of her starts on the green course. Winning trainer David Carroll said the Beverly D., at Arlington Park in August, is a major goal if Acoma is ready. But, he added, "You know, she's 6-for-6 in the state of Kentucky. Hopefully they'll move the Beverly D. down here! We'd like that!"
Milwaukee Appeal stalked the pace in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks, moved to the lead on the turn in tandem with Tasty Temptation, then got clear and won by 3 3/4 lengths. Tasty Temptation held second, 5 1/2 lengths to the good of Miss Blakely. The favorite, Wynning Ride, was fourth. Milwaukee Appeal, an Ontario-bred daughter of Milwaukee Brew, got the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.84 with Stewart Elliot up for trainer Scott Fairlie. "For a lot of the horses, it was their first time going a mile and an eighth," said Fairlie. "So a lot of them took back and waited. I think Stewart rode a helluva race and just left the filly alone."
Woodsmoke jumped out to a daylight lead in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Alywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then just survived the late run of favorite Pull Dancer to win by a nose. Retraceable was third. Woodsmoke, an Ontario-bred daughter of Langfuhr, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:15.44 with Tyler Pizarro up.
Awesome Rhythm posted an awesome victory in Sunday's $150,000 Victoria Park Stakes for 3-year-olds, taking over on the stretch turn and going clear for an 8 1/2-lengths win. Counter Move was the early speed and held second. Life Goes On went on for third. Awesome Rhythm, a Kentucky-bred colt by Toccet, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.12 with James McAleney aboard.
Ice Bear got the lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Eclipse Stakes, then held off the late bid of Marchfield to win by a neck. Approval Rating was third. Ice Bear, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred Maria's Mon gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.38 under Chantal Sutherland -- once the regular rider for Mine That Bird.
Michael's Bad Boy led all the way to a handy 5 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Steady Growth Stakes. Dancer's Bajan was second, a nose in front of Yummy With Butter (and what isn't?). Michael's Bad Boy, a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Wonneberg, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.53 for Eurico Da Silva.
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