10/01/2009 12:00AM

DRF Weekend: Summer Bird and Ice prove they belong at top


A man and his horse came to Belmont Park in the spring, hoping to establish themselves on the landscape of Thoroughbred racing. Four months later, that man, trainer Tim Ice, is back with his horse, Summer Bird, who can all but clinch an Eclipse Award for leading 3-year-old with a victory against older horses in Saturday's $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

It was four months ago when Summer Bird knocked off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird to win the Belmont Stakes at odds of 11-1. Following a second-place finish to the superstar filly Rachel Alexandra in the $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2, Summer Bird romped to a 3 1/2-length victory in the

$1 million Travers Stakes at sloppy Saratoga on Aug. 29.

Should he win Saturday's Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Summer Bird would become just the 10th 3-year-old to win the Belmont, Travers, and Gold Cup in the same year. The last to do it was Easy Goer in 1989. The list includes champions Temperence Hill, Arts and Letters, Damascus, One Count, Twenty Grand, and Man o' War. Gallant Man and Sword Dancer - like Easy Goer - were not voted

3-year-old champion the year they won all three races.

"I honestly never thought about it," Ice said when asked about championship honors. "I was looking at it as one race at a time, never really thought about him being [champion] 3-year-old colt. It was mainly get him ready for one race, see how he comes out, and get him ready for the next one. If he gets it, it's going to be on his accomplishments. As long as I have him ready to run, it will all pan out in the end."

Ice, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Belmont Stakes Day, has been focused on little else but Summer Bird since before the Belmont. Usually based at Louisiana Downs this time of year, Ice has spent the bulk of the last 4 1/2 months on the road, even missing the birth of his and his wife Heather's first child on Sept. 15.

"Sometimes the business comes before your family," Ice said.

Ice's focus has impressed the husband-and-wife team of Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, the owners and breeders of Summer Bird who gave Ice horses to train earlier this year.

"He's impressed me more than I expected," said Kalarikkal Jayaraman, who tried training on his own for six months. "More than anybody has ever," added Vilasini. "He's very focused. You don't see that anymore that much."

Admittedly, it's easier to be focused when you are

basically training a handful of horses. Ice had Summer Bird at Monmouth Park and then Saratoga along with just three other horses. At Belmont, Ice has just two

horses. The remainder of his stable is based at Louisiana Downs with his assistant trainer, Casey Clark, who is in charge of about two dozen horses.

Still, Ice has not missed much with Summer Bird. Leading up to the Belmont, he realized the horse needed blinkers to get him focused as well as hind shoes with toe grabs to get a better handle of the surface.

Another change Ice was responsible for making was with the jockey. Chris Rosier had ridden Summer Bird in his four starts that included a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby and a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Shortly after the Kentucky Derby, Ice reached out to Kent Desormeaux - someone he has known for many years - to ride Summer Bird in the Belmont. At the time, Desormeaux could not commit because he had a call to ride Conservative in the Preakness, though that horse eventually did not run in that race. Before the Preakness, however, Ice had secured the services of Joe Talamo for the Belmont. But when it became evident that Desormeaux would be available, Ice went back to him.

"I felt for Summer Bird's best interests and ours, it'd be great to have a rider that knows the track," Ice said. "It wasn't that we didn't have Kent before, we just couldn't get the call at that time."

Ice has consistently credited Desormeaux for his role in Summer Bird's success.

"This horse responds well to him," Ice said. "I don't know what it is; Kent's hands or whatever, he responds well."

Summer Bird also has responded well to racing. He has run in four consecutive Grade 1 races and his speed figures have improved with each race. Physically and mentally, Ice believes Summer Bird is much more mature now than he was heading into the Belmont Stakes.

"I don't know if it's night and day, but you can definitely see a maturity in him physically and mentally," Ice said. "When we brought him here, we thought we had a nice horse. The difference between now and then was that he's won two Grade 1's and has proven we were right all along to bring him here. You can definitely see the

maturity, the muscle, he's filled out. There's definitely a change as far as his appearance."

Ice also believes the best is yet to come.

"I think the more races he gets in him, the better off he's going to be," Ice said. "I really think this colt has the potential to be better than what he is now."

Ice, who winters at Oaklawn, has previously said that he hopes to be able to move his stable to the Northeast next spring, whether it be at Belmont, Monmouth, or Delaware. The work he has done with Summer Bird has led to some owners calling him to see if he'll take horses.

"I hope I've caught enough eyes that if I am to get another horse like him that it's not out of my league to be able to train one like him," Ice said. "I think it's probably harder to train a cheap horse than it is a good one simply because of the problems they do go through. Because he did come back and win a second Grade 1, it just proved it wasn't that he was the only mile-and-a-half horse in there that he just jumped up in that one race."

Both Ice and his horse have proven they're more than just one-hit wonders.