06/07/2009 11:00PM

Crown chasers make summer plans

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Tom Keyser
Summer Bird (left), with Kent Desormeaux up, catches and passes Mine That Bird (center) and Dunkirk in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The circle is complete. Five weeks after the Triple Crown began, the two main principals, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and the filly Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness Stakes, are both again stabled at Churchill Downs, awaiting what comes next after an unpredictable, compelling series of races.

This Triple Crown unfolded nowhere close to what anyone could have imagined before May 2. An overlooked gelding won the Derby at 50-1. His jockey, Calvin Borel, got off him to ride - and win with - another horse in the Preakness, a horse who wasn't even considered for the Preakness by her previous owners. And though the filly passed the Belmont, Borel got back on the Derby winner and had a chance for an unprecedented sweep of the Triple Crown with two different horses. The Belmont was won in an upset by Summer Bird, whose young trainer, Tim Ice, had said the Belmont was his goal the day after his colt ran third in the Arkansas Derby. Nice call.

Borel and Mine That Bird came up short Saturday, but racing was a big winner during the previous five weeks. Television ratings for both the Derby and Preakness were up from last year, and without a Triple Crown on the line Saturday, Belmont ratings were up over the comparable scenario in 2007. Handle tracked similarly, with increases from comparable days in either 2008 or 2007.

Most significantly, perhaps, no one died.

After the fatal breakdown of Eight Belles following the 2008 Derby, which came less than two years after Barbaro suffered a catastrophic injury in the 2006 Preakness, racing was under a microscope for these three races. The sport did itself proud, led by a plucky gelding, a jockey who became a folk hero, and a heretofore unknown trainer, Chip Woolley, who proved equally humble in victory as he was gracious in defeat.

The other big winner was the sire Birdstone, who was represented by both Mine That Bird and Summer Bird in his first crop.

Mine That Bird, who won the Derby, finished second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, and then was third Saturday in the Belmont, returned to Churchill Downs on Monday. He will train there at least through Saturday, when his connections are presented with their engraved Derby trophies, and then a decision will be made on where he heads next, Woolley said.

Regardless of whether Mine That Bird stays at Churchill or goes back to Sunland Park in New Mexico, where Woolley is based, he will get an extended vacation. Woolley said Mine That Bird would be pointed for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, with ideally two starts before then, "on dirt and against straight 3-year-olds," Woolley said.

Mine That Bird moved earlier in the Belmont than he did in the Derby and Preakness, which Woolley said may have been due to Mine That Bird being uncharacteristically unsettled during the day. Though he had seemingly taken all his travel and racing in stride, on Saturday Mine That Bird was animated when leaving Woolley's barn for the security barn, and then, hours later, when walking over from the security barn to the paddock.

"It might have been having those three races back to back," Woolley said Sunday morning at Belmont Park. "It's been fun, though. The horse showed up every time. I'm happy. It's been a good time. Now I'm ready for some rest."

Woolley said he was worn out from the Triple Crown grind.

"I made it anyway," said Woolley, who has to get around on crutches after badly fracturing his right leg in a motorcycle accident. "It's pretty tough on people. It's a little easier if you've got two good legs. It hit me like a bomb [Saturday] night. I can roll right along. But it sure showed up [Saturday] night."

Mine That Bird fared better. Woolley said he was "bright and bouncing" Sunday morning.

"He looks like he made it through this in good shape," Woolley said.

Rachel Alexandra, who has not raced since the Preakness, worked six furlongs in 1:13.80 on Monday morning at Churchill Downs with exercise rider Dominic Terry aboard.

"She went a nice, smooth three-quarters," said her trainer, Steve Asmussen. "She went beautiful, like she always does. She's in a nice rhythm and seems very happy right now."

No decision has been announced on where Rachel Alexandra will run next. That is to come from her majority owner, Jess Jackson, who after deciding to pass the Belmont mentioned the June 27 Mother Goose Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, as a possibility.

"We'll report back to Jess and the gang and see what we do next," Asmussen said.

Summer Bird also had a brief visit to Kentucky on Monday. He traveled there from New York on the same flight with Mine That Bird, then hopped on a van for Louisiana Downs, where Ice is based.

Ice said training at Belmont Park for three weeks, having five weeks between starts, the addition of blinkers, and a heady ride from Kent Desormeaux were the ingredients in a winning recipe. Summer Bird got a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the Belmont.

"The colt put a lot of confidence in me," Ice said Sunday morning at Belmont Park. "The last two weeks, he gave me nothing but confidence. The whole thought was to get here early to give us our best shot."

Ice said watching the stretch run was "like an out-of-body experience." He is a former assistant to Desormeaux's brother Keith, who is a trainer.

"Keith sent me a text message Saturday night and said he would call me when I came back down to Earth," Ice said, laughing.

Ice said specific plans for Summer Bird had yet to be finalized, but his season-ending objective is to get to the Breeders' Cup, though he wasn't sure if Summer Bird would be best suited by the 1 1/4 miles of the Classic, which is on a synthetic surface, or the 1 1/2 miles of the Turf. Summer Bird has not raced on a synthetic surface or turf.

"The main thing is to have a fresh horse," Ice said. "He was a lot better horse with five weeks between races."

Plans are uncertain for Dunkirk, who finished second in the Belmont. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said Dunkirk was "tired" Sunday morning.

"He gave us everything he had," Pletcher said.

Charitable Man, who finished fourth, had "a couple of little nicks," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, but otherwise was fine.

McLaughlin said Charitable Man would come back in either the Jim Dandy, on Aug. 1 at Saratoga, or the Haskell, on Aug. 2 at Monmouth, then go for the Travers on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.

- additional reporting by David Grening