06/03/2009 11:00PM

Ice's small stable has a big future

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ELMONT, N.Y - In some respects, trainer Tim Ice and his horse Summer Bird mirror each other. Entering Saturday's 141st Belmont Stakes, both are light on experience, but long on potential.

"He hasn't been doing it long and neither have I,'' said Ice, who celebrates his 35th birthday on Saturday. "We're both here together and hopefully we can win one of these Triple Crown races.''

After a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, and after skipping the Preakness, Summer Bird's last chance to win a Triple Crown race is Saturday's Belmont. However, Ice, with the backing of owners Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, may get more opportunities to be back on the Triple Crown trail.

After a 15-year career as an assistant trainer, Ice has been training on his own for about 13 months. He has a 25-horse stable based primarily at Louisiana Downs. He won his first stakes race on March 28 when Affirmed Truth took the Rainbow Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Ice is a native of East Liverpool, Ohio - just across the Ohio River from Mountaineer Racetrack - and moved to a 10-acre farm in Louisiana with his mother and stepfather, the now deceased trainer Frank Rapp, when he was 13 years old. Upon graduation from high school, Ice began working on the racetrack as a groom for trainer Bill Stites.

He worked as an assistant trainer for Keith Desormeaux - the brother of jockey Kent, who rides Summer Bird on Saturday - Cole Norman and Morris Nicks before going out on his own.

"I enjoyed working for all three guys,'' Ice said. "They were fun to be around and very insightful; all three were very knowledgeable of the sport.''

While working for Norman in 2003, Ice took the sprinter Beau's Town to Del Mar and won the Grade 2 Bing Crosby Stakes.

"When I went to work for Cole it was more so to learn different things from different trainers,'' Ice said. "With Cole he had a lot more horses. It was a chance to learn more and meet more people as far as owners and things.''

Ice added that he still consults with Nicks, a Churchill Downs-based trainer, almost daily.

While working for Norman, Ice met the Jayaramans, who bred and own Summer Bird. The Jayaramans have turned out to own the bulk of Ice's 25-horse operation based in Louisiana Downs

"Being a small stable he can pay more attention to the horses," said Kalarikkal Jayaraman, a cardiologist who tried training on his own for about six months. "He's done a good job with [Summer Bird].''

Initially, the Jayaramans had Summer Bird with John Sadler in Southern California. The horse had breezed up to six furlongs by late December when he developed a foot abscess. The Jayaramans, who race primarily in Louisiana and Arkansas, transferred the horse to Ice, who was based at Oaklawn Park which utilizes a dirt surface.

Ice had Summer Bird for about a month when he started him in a six-furlong maiden race at Oaklawn on March 1. After a slow start Summer Bird rallied to finish fourth, beaten one length. Eighteen days later, Ice stretched out Summer Bird to 1 1/16 miles and the horse rallied from next-to-last to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

Just 23 days after that, Summer Bird was catapulted into the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, where he rallied from last to be third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Papa Clem. Entering the Arkansas Derby, Ice was considering using it as a stepping-stone to the Lone Star Derby for Summer Bird. But after the effort the horse put in and when it began to look as though Summer Bird could make it into the Kentucky Derby field, Churchill Downs became the destination.

"We thought maybe with the way he was doing, we could jump up and get a piece of it,'' Ice said.

In the Derby, Summer Bird raced in 16th position early and launched his bid about the same time as Mine That Bird. The major difference was while Mine That Bird cut the corner, Summer Bird went eight wide. Summer Bird continued on through the stretch and finished sixth, 13 lengths behind Mine That Bird.

"I've never been congratulated so much for a sixth-place finish,'' Ice said. "I felt very good about it. . . . I think he represented himself very well. I was not disappointed whatsoever.''

Ice said he thought Summer Bird may have lost focus down the lane in the Derby, which is why he is putting blinkers on the colt for the first time in the Belmont.

"When they turn for home I want every bit of his concentration on getting to that wire first,'' Ice said.

While Ice hopes Summer Bird could jump up and win a race like the Belmont, he said he believes that the lightly raced horse should improve through the summer and fall as he gets more experience. Ice also feels Summer Bird could excel on the turf.

"I don't want to make any plans until we get past this race,'' Ice said. "Eventually I may try to get this horse on the grass. He has some turf pedigree to him on the bottom side. We're looking at the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington and a couple of races at Colonial Downs. We want to see how he handles the grass.''

As for Ice's future, he hopes to be getting an influx of 2-year-olds from the Jayaramans in the next few months. He is also eyeing a change of venue, perhaps as early as next year, to somewhere in the Northeast.

"There's more tracks that you can run at and better purse money,'' Ice said. "Overall, I got to look out for my owners. To win a race just to break even is not good.''

An upset victory in the Belmont would certainly put Ice ahead of the game.