ELMONT, N.Y. — Summer Bird stated his case for being crowned 3-year-old champion while trying to enter the conversation for Horse of the Year with an easier-than-it looked one-length victory over Quality Road in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Summer Bird added the Jockey Club Gold Cup to victories earlier in the year in the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes, becoming just the 10th 3-year-old to capture all three races in the same year. He’s the first to do it since Easy Goer in 1989. Others to do it include Temperence Hill, Arts and Letters, Damascus, One Count, Twenty Grand, Man o’ War, Sword Dancer and Gallant Man.
“It’s been 20 years since a 3-year-old won the Belmont, Travers and the Gold Cup,” trainer Tim Ice said. “I think it does put him in an elite group and he should be named 3-year-old [champion] colt.”
Ice said Summer Bird will more than likely be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7, a decision that will be made after the colt is evaluated for a few days.
Summer Bird had already shown his prowess over a wet track in the Travers Stakes, splashing his way to a 3 1/2-length victory that day. When the skies opened up at Belmont earlier in the day, it turned the main track into a quagmire. Ice believes track surface “wouldn’t have mattered” for Summer Bird in the Gold Cup.
“He won the Belmont on a fast track,” Ice said. “He’s definitely a racehorse, it doesn’t matter how the track comes up.”
Under Kent Desormeaux, Summer Bird broke well out of the gate and assumed fourth position early as Tizway set the early pace hounded by Quality Road, who pushed Tizway through an opening quarter in 24.96 seconds and a half-mile in 49.73 seconds.
Summer Bird moved into third while racing several paths off the rail midway down the backstretch. At the 4 1/2-furlong marker, Quality Road went after Tizway, and Desormeaux had Summer Bird follow him. Summer Bird confronted Quality Road leaving the five-sixteenths pole, and the duo raced together until the eighth pole, when Summer Bird began to edge away. Though it appeared as though Quality Road was fighting back, Desormeaux said Summer Bird was “idling.”
“At the quarter pole he spit past Quality Road, and he was idling,” Desormeaux said. “He’s trying to be the best I’ve ever ridden.”
Summer Bird eventually drew away inside the sixteenth pole en route to the win. Quality Road finished second, 4 1/2 lengths clear of Tizway. He was followed in the order of finish by Macho Again, Dry Martini, Sette E Mezzo, and Asiatic Boy.
Summer Bird, owned by Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.51 and returned $4.50 as the favorite.
“Kent said Summer Bird was hanging a little bit,” Ice said. “He said it was a lot easier than it looked. He had horse left and he [had] no doubt that he was going to win the race. He makes the lead and if you head him he’s going to dig back in. I was feeling pretty confident inside the sixteenth pole.”
Quality Road, who finished third in the Travers, ran an improved race though jockey John Velazquez said he thought his horse was “timid” over the off going.
“I think he’s better on a fast track,” Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Quality Road said. “Summer Bird relishes this kind of surface.”
Summer Bird will most likely ship to Southern California within 10 days to prepare for the Classic, run over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface. While many believe Rachel Alexandra has cemented Horse of the Year, Ice said that his horse should enter contention with a win in the Classic.
“Not necessarily he’ll win Horse of the Year,” Ice said. “But I think it should be close.”