Long-shot Summer Bird Wins at Belmont
Bird was indeed the word for the 141st Belmont Stakes on Saturday. But that is where the predictability ended.
Long shot Summer Bird — not favored Kentucky Derby champ Mine That Bird — made a dramatic rally to take the final leg of the Triple Crown by 2 3/4 lengths against runner-up Dunkirk at Belmont Park.
The surprising victory filled the only gap in the resume of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux while denying Calvin Borel, who handled third-place Mine That Bird, the first riding Triple Crown that would have been achieved on two different horses.
"I can tell you how much I'm glowing inside and how much I'm at ease knowing I won all three of the Triple Crown classics," said Desormeaux.
The 39-year-old had won the Kentucky Derby three times and the Preakness twice. He had come up empty with six previous Belmont mounts, however, including two unforgettable setbacks.
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His Triple Crown bid aboard Real Quiet was thwarted by Victory Gallop at the wire in 1998. History was again at stake last year after Big Brown dominated the first two legs only to come up so empty for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont that Desormeaux eased him in the stretch.
He was criticized for his efforts in both of those races. Mike Pegram, who owned Real Quiet, has said he believed Real Quiet was asked to make his run too soon. Former jockeys Jerry Bailey and Gary Stevens said last year they thought Desormeaux could have exhibited more patience in the early going with Big Brown.
First-year trainer Tim Ice, who came here from his home base in Louisiana to celebrate his 35th birthday in style, had initially intended to have promising West Coast rider Joe Talamo ride his sixth-place Kentucky Derby finisher. His change of mind was fortuitous.
"We talked to a few people and they said we needed a rider who knew the track," said Ice. "Nothing against Joe, but we found a rider who got the job done."
While Borel was credited for giving Mine That Bird a masterful last-to-first ride when they pulled the second-biggest upset in Derby history at 50-1, he was open to second-guessing this time for possibly asking his gelding to run too soon.
"Calvin said he was kind of fighting him down the backside," said trainer Chip Woolley. "Calvin might have set him down a touch early, but that was a judgment call."
Borel expressed no regrets about guaranteeing victory with his first Belmont starter.
"If you're not going to come here with confidence, you might as well not come," he said. "I come to these races with confidence."
Woolley, an unknown when he drove a one-time $9,500 purchase from Sunland Park in New Mexico to Churchill Downs to start their Triple Crown odyssey, could hardly be disappointed with his improbable Derby champion and Preakness runnerup.
"He ran a great race. It's been a lot of fun," he said. "We'll give him a good eight weeks off and let him freshen up."
The next start is still to be decided for Summer Bird and Mine That Bird. Interestingly, both were sired by Birdstone, who pulled a stunning upset against Triple Crown threat Smarty Jones in 2004.
It also is worth noting that a horse who was not asked to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown took the Belmont for the fifth time in the last seven years.
"He had five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont and it helped the colt a lot," Ice said. "He proved today we did the right thing by skipping the Preakness and getting him here early."