06/08/2009 4:33PM

Year of the Bird!

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In this strange year of The Bird, it was only fitting that Kent Desormeaux, like the Phoenix, rose from the ashes to drive away the albatross that clung to his neck  When Desormeaux's Summer Bird reached the midway point of the far turn in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, Desormeaux found himself chased by the ghosts of Real Quiet and Big Brown, two Triple Crown hopefuls that brought nothing but heartbreak to the rider in the "Test of the Champion."  Blame Kent D. all you want for moving too soon on Real Quiet, or for pulling Big Brown up to a walk last year, but redemption is always sweet.  Frankie Dettori has won thousands of races, but until he slew Curlin in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, the energetic Italian was best known for his puzzling stretch drive on Swain in the 1998 edition. 
It took Desormeaux and Summer Bird a little less than two and a half minutes to exorcise Desormeaux's previous Belmont failures.  This was an excellent and patient ride.  Desormeaux was able to get his newly-blinkered colt into the race early. After steadying behind Charitable Man on the clubhouse turn, Desormeaux found the rail heading onto the backstretch.  Then, the waiting game begun.  Saving every inch of ground, Desormeaux had his eyes peeled on the Belmont's Big Three.  As the field moved into the sweeping final bend, Charitable Man and Dunkirk were rolling along on the lead, and Mine That Bird was in the midst of an early wide bid.  Desormeaux had to go, and he maneuvered his mount for clear sailing on the outside.  Summer Bird responded, and he wore down his tired competitors in the taxing final furlong. 
Credit not only goes to the ride, but to Summer Bird's youthful trainer, Tim Ice.  The lightly-raced Summer Bird had shown a tendency to lag far behind in the early portion of his races, so Ice added blinkers in the hope of injecting tactical speed into the colt.  It worked.  Fifteen lengths behind the lead after the first call of the Arkansas Derby, and fourteen lengths behind in the early portion of the Derby, Summer Bird was only six lengths back in the Belmont. The equipment change may have made all the difference.
John Velazquez, perhaps realizing the lack of true speed on paper in the Belmont, gunned Dunkirk to the front from his inside post.  It was a gutsy gamble, and it almost paid great dividends.  Dunkirk ran a corker as he carved out solid fractions for this demanding distance.  Not one of the reported crowd of 52,681 at Belmont Park would have faulted the gray if he called it quits turning for home, but Dunkirk refused to let the pace-pressing Charitable Man surge past him, and he re-rallied to deny Mine That Bird his place in an all-fowl exacta.  
Calvin Borel, widely complimented for his wonderful rides in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is bound to receive some criticism for perhaps moving too soon in the Belmont.  Borel gunned Mine That Bird to the front at the quarter-pole, and the plucky gelding had every chance to drop the hammer on his foes only to come up short in the last eighth of a mile.  Perhaps the difficult Triple Crown campaign finally took its toll on Mine That Bird.  It's questionable at best that a more patient ride would have catapaulted Mine That Bird to the winner's circle, but the betting favorite validated his previous two races with another rock-solid performance.   
Desormeaux served notice that he was sitting on a big day when Convocation won by the length of the stretch in the third race, a maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles.  Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Convocation is out of a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Tempera, and is likely headed straight into stakes company.
Desormeaux came right back to steal an allowance race on the grass with New York-bred Pennington.  Allowed to dictate fractions of 26.13, 51.10, and 1:15.81 over yielding ground that had been battered by rain earlier in the week, Pennington had more than enough in the tank to fend off favored Expansion in the drive.
The all-Desormeaux Pick 3 returned a whopping $399.00 when Sette E Mezzo rallied from off the pace to win an entry-level allowance on the turf.
Munnings finally lived up to the hype that has surrounded him since the Speightstown colt sold for $1.7M as a two-year-old in training.  Trained by Todd Pletcher, Munnings showed a different dimension by relaxing behind the leaders before uncorking an explosive rally from in between rivals in upper stretch.  The final furlong was merely a formality as Munnings streaked under the finish line.  He has the look of a King's Bishop horse this summer at Saratoga.
Fabulous Strike found the cutback to six furlongs to his liking in the True North Handicap.  When he's sound, Fabulous Strike is one of the fastest sprinters in the world.  With the Breeders' Cup over synthetics once again this year, and considering Fabulous Strike's Pro-Ride flop in 2008, trainer Todd Beattie has some interesting decisions to make concerning his fleet veteran's future.  Benny the Bull didn't win, but his connections have to be heartened by the solid performance in the first start after an injury-induced layoff led to an aborted retirement.  Benny the Bull seems on track for the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder next month.
Diamondrella likes to win, and she made it six in a row in the Grade 1 Just a Game for trainer Angel Penna Jr.  Champion Forever Together lost nothing in defeat over the testing going.  Gio Ponti's strong late surge makes him a threat in any turf race that he participates in, and his punch is as devastating at a mile as it is at ten furlongs. Just Ben demolished his field earlier on the Belmont Stakes card, and looks like an intriguing sprint prospect for Nick Zito.
Although the Belmont Stakes featured some very good three-year-olds, it isn't unreasonable to conclude that the best three-year-old in the world ran half a world away on Saturday.  Sea the Stars, arguably an overlay at starting odds of 11/4, achieved a 2000 Guineas/Epsom Derby double with a good-looking score in the 1 1/2 mile classic.   Nashwan was the last to successfully complete the double in 1989.  A half-brother to the wonderful Galileo, Sea the Stars is out of the all-world broodmare Urban Sea, and seems like an extremely professional performer.  Trained by the wily John Oxx, Sea the Stars served notice that he is a colt of the highest class. 

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Some Belmont Stakes quotes courtesy of the NYRA Press Notes:

Nick Zito:  "Brave Victory - I don't know where he got stepped on, but he's got a big gash on his knee.  He'll be okay..."

Edgar Prado (rode Mr. Hot Stuff):  "When Summer Bird made that move on the far turn, no one was going to catch him."

Chip Woolley (on Mine That Bird):  "He looked good coming off the track.  He was tired, he was used, but he looked all right...I thought he might have moved a hair early...I'll give him a good eight weeks off and let him freshen up.  We'll aim at something on the East Coast."

John Velazquez (on Dunkirk):  He was definitely tired when I pulled him up, and he tied up.  I hosed him down, and he seemed to be okay.  I couldn't believe I was on the lead early.  There was no pace.  The way he broke, he was already there on the lead, so I didn't want to hold him back.  I didn't see Mine That Bird, and he came at me at the eighth-pole..."

Calvin Borel (on Mine That Bird):  "I thought I had it won when I got to the quarter-pole...No excuses...He took me a little earlier.  When I eased him out, the horses in front of me kind of stopped.  He got outrun, no excuses...He ran his eyeballs out...He ran a good race...Don't take anything away from the little horse..." 

Kiaran McLaughlin (on Charitable Man):  "It was a pretty fast pace going that far.  I was confident he was going to run well. He ran well, but I thought he was good enough to win, so it's disappointing."

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Here are the winning Beyer Speed Figures from last week's stakes races:

*True North (Bel):  Fabulous Strike (T. Beattie/R. Dominguez) - 111
*Woody Stephens (Bel):  Munnings (T. Pletcher/J. Velazquez) - 110

*Longfellow (Mth):  Go Go Shoot (B. Levine/E. Castro) - 109
*Woodford Reserve Manhattan (Bel):  Gio Ponti (C. Clement/G. Gomez) - 106
*Hill Prince (Bel):  Despite the Odds (M. Trombetta/J. Rose) - 104
*Just a Game (Bel):  Diamondrella - GB (A. Penna Jr./R. Maragh) - 104
*Karl Boyes Memorial Northwestern Pa. (PID):  Street Magician (M. Trombetta/J. Pimentel) - 102
*Charles Whittingham Memorial (Hol):  Midships (R. Frankel/V. Espinoza) - 101
*Brooklyn (Bel):  Eldaafer (D. Alvarado/J. Chavez) - 100
*Belmont (Bel):  Summer Bird (T. Ice/K. Desormeaux) - 100

*Woodbine Oaks (Hol):  Milwaukee Appeal (S. Fairlie/S. Elliott) - 99
*Ack Ack (Hol):  Noble Court (J. Sadler/J. Rosario) - 99
*Rumson (Mth):  Great Love (J. Robb/J. Bravo) - 98
*Satin and Lace (PID):  Libor Lady (M. Pino/M. Pino) - 97
*Redondo Beach (Hol):  Tuscan Evening - Ire (J. Hollendorfer/R. Bejarano) - 97
*Hollywood Oaks (Hol):  Carlsbad (J. Mullins/T. Baze) - 96
*Acorn (Bel):  Gabby's Golden Gal (B. Baffert/J. Castellano) - 96
*Tin Man (AP):  Silverfoot (D. Stewart/C. Emigh) - 96
*Eatontown (Mth):  All Is Vanity - Fr (C. Clement/J. Bravo) - 95
*Early Times Mint Julep (CD):  Acoma (D. Carroll/C. Lanerie) - 94
*Eclipse (WO):  Ice Bear (M. Benson/C. Sutherland) - 94
*Victoria Park (WO):  Awesome Rhythm (J. Ross/J. McAleney) - 93
*Steady Growth (WO):  Michael's Bad Boy (N. Gonzalez/E. Da Silva) - 93
*Washington State Legislators (EmD):  Gadget Queen (B. Wright/R. Frazier) - 93
*John Longden 6000 (Hst):  Bank Emblem (R. Gilker/F. Fuentes) - 92
*Slipton Fell (Mnr):  Crimson Comic (M. Shuman/R. Feliciano) - 92
*Senate Appointee (Hst):  Wind Storm (D. Forster/R. Hamel) - 91
*Alyssum (Bel):  Malibu Beach (S. Klesaris/R. Dominguez) - 90
*Brooks Fields (Cby):  Spider Power - Ire (M. Biehler/J. Ferrer) - 90

*Manhattan Beach (Hol):  Strawberry Tart (J. Bonde/M. Garcia) - 88
*Panthers (PrM):  Don'ttalktome (J. Hicklin/T. Thompson) - 87
*Liberada (Crc):  Eclisse - Fr (M. Wolfson/J. Santiago) - 87
*Coin Collector (CT):  Gabriel's Smile (R. Schiano-Dicola/L. Reynolds) - 87
*Prairie Mile (PrM):  Proceed Bee (S. Becker/T. Thompson) - 86
*Glowing Honor (Bel):  J Z Warrior (W. Mott/J. Velazquez) - 85
*Free Press (AsD):  Monsoon Rain (C. Torevell/C. Marquez) - 85
*Alywow (WO):  Woodsmoke (M. Keogh/T. Pizarro) - 85
*John D. Marsh (Cnl):  Hugo (H. Smith/R. Homeister Jr.) - 84
*Hoist Her Flag (Cby):  Adhsilver (G. Scherer/T. Hebert) - 81
*Nicoles Dream (AP):  Taylor Madison (M. Dini/J. Campbell) - 81
*President's (NP):  Robo Willie (G. Tracy/R. Walcott) - 80

*Candy Eclair (Mth):  Reata's Quik Punch (J. Orseno/C. Marquez Jr.) - 79
*Its Binn Too Long (CT):  Beware of the Bop (T. Grams/L. Reynolds) - 77
*Willard L. Proctor Memorial (Hol):  Classical Slew (D. O'Neill/M. Baze) - 75
*Golden Boy (AsD):  Theglow (C. Torevell/R. Singh) - 75
*Oakley (Cnl):  Trophy Collector (R. Jenkins/E. Camacho) - 75
*TTA Sales Futurity (fillies) (LS):  Tin Top Cat (W. Calhoun/R. Zimmerman) - 73

*Mount Royal (NP):  Tricky Temper (K. Grieves/D. Bryan) - 69
*Helen B. Anthony Memorial (Yav):  Beautiful Holiday (D. McFarlane/E. Garcia) - 68
*TTA Sales Futurity (colts) (LS):  Majestic Vintage (C. Asmussen/T. McNeil) - 68
*State Fair Breeders' Special (Lnn):  Reach One More (D. Anderson/M. Ziegler) - 68
*Lois Rollins Memorial (Yav):  Ride the Bull (D. McFarlane/S. Duarte) - 62

*Chantilly (AsD):  Lady Countdown (C. Smith/R. Singh) - 58


Here are the lifetime past performances for the highest and lowest Beyer stakes performers of the week:

Download Fabulous Lady

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Never tire of watching that stretch run between the two monsters....Affirmed & Alydar!
Anybody know what the attendance figure was that day? Just curious.
Matt M

Joe Hirsch reported the 1978 Belmont Stakes crowd as 65,417.

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Has a son of Unbridled's Song ever won an important 10 to 12 furlong race?  I can't think of any off the top of my head. 
Reinier

Political Force (Unbridled's Song - Glitter Woman, by Glittmerman) won the Suburban Handicap (Grade 1) at 1 1/4 miles at Belmont Park in 2007.  A filly, Octave, won the Coaching Club American Oaks at that distance.  The point is well taken, though.  He is more a sire of middle-distance perfomers than a true classic stallion.

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Dan,
Can you post the career PP's of Better Talk Now?  I saw them once and I believe he started as a dirt horse.
mattcoll

The old man still has a puncher's chance if the pace is legitimate.  Here they are:

Download Better Talk Now

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Congrats to Tedmur for finishing first in the Belmont Stakes HandiGambling contest.  We're awaiting the selection for this week's race.

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