Since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, the Birdstone colt has won the Belmont by 2 3/4 lengths, beating Dunkirk and Derby winner Mine That Bird. He then finished second in the Haskell, losing only to the nation's best 3-year-old, the super filly Rachel Alexandra.
Mine That Bird skipped the Travers after missing a few days training as a result of minor throat surgery. Rachel Alexandra took a pass, waiting for her chance against older males in the Woodward.
That left Quality Road as the favorite in the Travers. Quality Road won the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby this winter, then missed the Kentucky Derby with hoof problems. He came back to the track with a victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam earlier this month.
But the Travers, run over a sloppy track, turned out to be a tactical race, at least for the first mile. Jockey Kent Desormeaux kept Summer Bird close to the pace while John Velazquez had Quality Road just a bit farther back. As a result, Quality Road got the first run at the lead entering the stretch. Quality Road never looked like matching that rival.
Summer Bird, a Kentucky-bred colt by Birdstone, got the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.83. Hold Me Back ran well late to take second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Quality Road. Among the other well-bet hopefuls, Charitable Man finished fourth and Kensei faded to finish sixth after disputing the pace.
Jockey John Velazquez said Quality Road "didn't break very good. There was nothing I could do. But he came back and got himself back into the race. There was no room for me to go around the far turn … Once we got some room, he was starting to run again." Asked if he feels now that he has the top 3-year-old male, Summer Bird's rookie trainer, Tim Ice, said: "I feel like I do. He beat Quality Road today. I have a lot of respect for Quality Road, and I have a lot of respect for my horse. So maybe he is champion 3-year-old."
Summer Bird's emergence adds another potential twist to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 7 at Santa Anita. That race over the artificial surface already potentially could draw a wide-ranging mix of dirt and grass horses from North America and some of the top Europeans.
Further complicating the picture for the Classic, owner Jess Jackson announced during the week that Rachel Alexandra, already the winner of the Preakness and the Haskell against 3-year-old males, will take on older males in the Sept. 5 Woodward at Saratoga. No filly or mare has ever won the historic event.
Citing an unwillingness to race over Santa Anita's artificial surface, Jackson has ruled out a Breeders' Cup appearance for Rachel Alexandra, who also won the Kentucky Oaks and the Mother Goose during an eight-race-and-counting winning streak. Trainer Steve Asmussen said the decision to start Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward is about "legacy … I think it's the showcase or the platform that she's worthy of."
NYRA officials said the super filly could face the likes of Asiatic Boy, Cool Coal Man, Tizway, Bullsbay, It's a Bird and Macho Again in the Woodward starting gate.
In other weekend races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita:
$2 million Ladies Classic
Icon Project clearly is coming into her own. Sent to the post as the odds-on favorite in Sunday's $400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, the 4-year-old Empire Maker filly sat just off the pace until the second turn, when jockey Julien Leparoux gave her the okay to go. From then on, it was all Icon Project and, at the wire, her margin of victory was 13 1/2 lengths. Swift Temper, who defeated Icon Project last month, came from farther back to finish second and Morena finished third. Icon Project finished the 1 1/4 miles on a "good" main track in 2:02.37. The victory was reminiscent of Icon Project's 13-lengths victory in the New York Stakes at Belmont Park in June. That was her first start on the main track. "I thought she'd win," said trainer Marty Wolfson. "But I didn't think she'd win by that far. She ran the same way in the New York and she would have won the Delaware race if she'd got the same trip she got today." He said he has not decided on Icon Project's next race but will consider the Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 11.
Luna Vega came from last of six to win Sunday's $300,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park, getting clear in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Spritely. Devil House finished third. Luna Vega, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.91. Elvis Trujillo was up for trainer Steve Asmussen. "There was a lot of speed in the race so I just stayed behind everyone,"
Trujillo said. "At the three-eighths pole, I came out and she ran a good race from there." The victory was Luna Vega's fourth from 14 career starts.
$3 million Emirates Airline Turf
Justenuffhumor lagged near the back of the field early, then had just enough gas to catch Cowboy Cal in the late going of Friday's $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, winning by 1/2 length. Sette E Mezzo was third. Justenuffhumor, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, ran the 1 1/8 miles on a firm inner turf course in 1:47.38. Alan Garcia rode for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "It's a special horse that can make that move," McLaughlin said. "I haven't been around too many that if you can get them in the gate, they'll find a way to get to the wire first, and this is one of those horses." He said he has not yet mapped out a fall campaign for Justenuffhumor, who now has six straight wins after a misfire in his career opener.
Spring House, belying his 7 years of age, rallied between horses in deep stretch to win Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by a nose over Sir Dave. Temple City was third and the favorite, Artiste Royale, was a nose farther behind in fourth. Spring House, a Kentucky-bred Chester House gelding, ran the 1 3/8 miles in 2:12.61 under Alex Solis. "This horse just loves Del Mar," said winning trainer Julio Canani. Spring House also won this race last year and now has 10 wins from 43 starts. "He wins here. I don't know why he can't win at Hollywood Park but he doesn't. I lost them in the fog and when I heard Trevor (Denman) say Spring House was coming, I was thinking he had to hurry because the wire was coming up. The early pace surprised me. It was like they were trying to escape from Alcatraz."
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Salve Germania acted up in the paddock, bolted during the post parade and balked at going into the gate for Saturday's $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap at Saratoga. So, of course the 24-1 shot rallied down the middle of the track in deep stretch to win by a head over the favorite, Rutherienne. My Princess Jess was another 1/2 length back in third. Salve Germania, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Peintre Celebre, ran the 1 1/16 miles on "soft" turf in 1:47.25. Javier Castellano had the mount for trainer Waldemar Hickst. Salve Germania started her career in Germany and France. "It was her first time in this country. She was a little scared of the people, it was so crowded," Castellano said. "In the race she settled beautifully. It was a slow pace and she settled right behind the horses and when asked, she kicked very good."
Black Mamba stalked the pace in Friday's $115,000 CTT and Thoroughbred Owners of California Handicap at Del Mar, surged to the lead at mid-stretch and won by 3/4 length. Lemon Chiffon, who led at the top of the lane, held third by 1/2 length over Rosa Grace. Black Mamba, a 6-year-old, New Zealand-bred mare by Black Minnalousche, ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.38 under Mike Smith. John Sadler trains.
$2 million TVG Turf Mile
Ferneley rallied four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Mile and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Allicansayis Wow edged up for second with Lethal Heat fading from the lead to finish third. The odds-on favorite, Monterey Jazz, hit a sour note, fading badly in the late going and finishing seventh of nine. Ferneley, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred son of Ishiguru, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.11. Joel Rosario rode for trainer Ben Cecil as Ferneley won for the sixth time in 26 lifetime starts. Although the Del Mar Mile is a "Win and You're In" qualifying race for the Breeders' Cup Mile, Ferneley is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and would have to be supplemented to the race. Cecil said: "The only instructions I gave the rider were to try to save all the ground he could. Of course, then he was about eight wide going into the first turn because everybody took back. But Joel rode him perfectly after that."
Lady Shakespeare lagged behind most of the 11-horse field in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Colleen Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, closed into the field on the turn and then came five-wide to take the lead and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Carem Crescent was second and Forest Uproar finished third. Lady Shakespeare, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Theatrical, ran the 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:36.79 under Emma-Jayne Wilson.
$1 million Turf Sprint
Jungle Wave hit the front turning for home in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Play the King Stakes at Woodbine, got clear and held on to win by 3/4 length over Field Commission. Rebellion finished third. Jungle Wave, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Hold That Tiger gelding, ran 7 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:23.06 with Todd Kabel up for trainer Sid Attard. Both rider and jockey are looking forward to the $1 million Woodbine Mile Sept. 20. "I said to Sid, 'I want to get too high on this horse, but you might have a (Woodbine) Mile horse here,'" Kable said. "Touch wood, everything Sid and his crew have done with this horse, they've done an amazing job."
$2 million Sentient Jet Sprint
Vineyard Haven appeared to have Saturday's $300,000 NetJets Kings Bishop Stakes for 3-year-olds won until the final yards. Then, the Godolphin Racing colorbearer suddenly ducked to the left, bumping hard with Capt. Candyman Can, nearly knocking that rival off stride. Vineyard Haven went on to win by a head but the Saratoga stewards had an easy time deciding to reverse the order of finish, posting Capt. Candyman Can the winner. Munnings was well back in third. Capt. Candyman Can, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:22.35 under Javier Castellano. "He came out and he bumped twice into me and my horse," Castellano said. "He caused him to lose his momentum and he still only got beat by a head. That's what cost me the race today. Without the bump, (Capt. Candyman Can) would definitely have pulled away to win." The victory was his fourth in six starts this year. Vineyard Haven's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, said jockey Alan Garcia "tried to keep him straight. He tried to pull him over two or three times. It's just one of those things that happens in races."
$1 million Sentient Jet Filly & Mare Sprint
Music Note drew off in the stretch in Saturday's $300,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, easily beating the favorite, Indian Blessing, by 5 1/4 lengths. Informed Decision, who prompted the early pace, finished third, another length in arrears. Music Note, owned by Godolphin, ran the 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:22.1. "Music Note ran a big race and we are happy with her," said winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "She's really healthy and back in exactly the same form she was last year. She's a tough filly and she always tries hard. I talked to the jockey and told him to just sit in behind the lead. He gave her a brilliant ride and she handled the mud really well today."
Godolphin also sent out the winner of Saturday's $100,000 Victory Ride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga -- Sara Louise. The Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon filly settled in mid-pack before commencing her run at the quarter pole and drew off at the end to win by 2 lengths over pace-setting Bold Union. Juliet's Spirit finished third. With Edgar Prado handling the reins, Sara Louise ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.66 over the sloppy track. Although Sara Louise has three wins and a second from five lifetime starts, her main claim to fame is that she is the last horst to beat Rachel Alexandra -- in the Pocahontas last November at Churchill Downs. She then finished well back of Rachel Alexandra in the Golden Rod and was sent to Dubai for the winter. Suroor said Rachel Alexandra is "in a different class now" than when she lost to Sara Louise. "Our filly beat her before. We'll have to wait for the right time" to try her again.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile
Jackson Bend prompted the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder Race Course, then rallied three-wide around the turn and got home first by 1 1/2 lengths over Mr. Green. Bim Bam was third. Jackson Bend, the odds-on favorite in a field of just five, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:25.19 under Jeffrey Sanchez. He is a son of Hear No Evil out of the Tabasco Cat mare Sexy Stockings. Jackson Bend is now in position to become the seventh horse to sweep the open division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. The third race of the series is the $400,000 In Reality at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 17. "The first two legs of the series are a little close together," said winning trainer Stanley Gold. "So we'll probably just train him up to the final (the In Reality Division on Oct. 17)."
Wave Me By waved bye-bye to seven rivals at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Seacliff Stakes at Calder, drawing off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Christopher'simage was second and Bernie the Maestro finished third. Wave Me By, a Florida-bred Untuttable gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:43.21 under Eduardo Nunez. "He's eligible for the Stallion Stakes, but we wanted to try him two turns today," said winning trainer Kathleen O'Connell. "Ultimately, he may be better on turf. He's out of a Theatrical mare. He acts like he can run all day."
$1 million Juvenile Turf
Retire to What provided a retirement cushion to his backers after Saturday's $100,000 Fasig Tipton Turf Dash at Calder. The Florida-bred Snow Ridge colt, at odds of 45-1, led all the way and won by 1 length over the favorite, Girl Bar, with Gesu third. Retire to What, with Manuel Aguilar up, ran the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.11 seconds. He was claimed for $12,500 last time out -- while winning by 7 lengths in his second career start. "He had finished last in his first start, but I didn't ask any questions, I just did it, and here we are," said trainer Angel Medina.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
Rosebud's Ridge led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, surviving at the wire by a neck over the favorite, Sweetlalabye. Winsockie was third. Rosebud's Ridge, a 17-1 shot in the mutuels, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.53 under Cecilio Penalba. She came into the race off her maiden victory. "None of the mare's previous foals went a distance. I'll be happy if she's just a sprinter, but we'll make that decision down the road," said winning breeder and trainer Heman Wilensky
In Saturday's $100,000 Lindsey Frolic Stakes at Calder, Gator Brew battled through deep stretch with the favorite, The Isabella Angel, before getting home first by a nose. Roma's Gal was another head back in third. Gator Brew, a Florida-bred daughter of Milwaukee Brew, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:43.14 under Paco Lopez and survived a claim of foul resulting from some bumping in the stretch before the result was posted official. Gator Brew came into the one-mile stakes race off her third place career debut on Aug. 15. "We could have run her in the Susan's Girl (division of the Florida Stallion Stakes) today, but we were mainly concerned about running in there as a maiden," said winning trainer Bill White. "But off of this effort, we'll certainly consider running in the next race of the series", the $400,000 My Dear Girl at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 17.
Kid Kate dominated the stretch run in Saturday's $60,000 Junior Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park, drawing clear and scoring by 3 3/4 lengths over That's How I Roll. Never Quicker rallied from last but wasn't quick enough to do better than third. Kid Kate, a Kentucky-bred Lemon Drop Kid filly, ran the 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:39.58 under Elvis Trujillo.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf
The heavy hitters struck out in Sunday's Moyglare Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland as Termagant, at 16-1, drew off in the end to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Second was Famous, the lesser regarded of trainer Aidan O'Brien's starters. O'Brien's odds-on favorite, Lillie Langtry, was a poorish third while Godolphin's entry, Long Lashes, was even farther back in fourth. Winning trainer Kevin Prendergrast said he is pleased with the job Termagant, a daughter of Powerscourt, has done this season. She won in her debut at Leopardstown and now may get a rest. "She might not run again this season," he told the Press Association. "She has done a good job. Our aim now will be to come back here for the Irish 1000 Guineas."
Miss Delite came from well back to win Saturday's $100,000 Catcharisingstar Stakes at Calder by 2 1/4 lengths over Winey Taylor. Sweet Like Sugar finished third. Miss Delite, a Florida-bred Exchange Rate filly, got the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.89 seconds with Luis Arango in the irons.