08/28/2009 11:00PM

Summer Bird cruises to Travers victory

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Barbara D. Livingston
Summer Bird wins the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - He is no longer the other Bird.

Summer Bird flew out from underneath the shadow of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird Saturday with a surprisingly easy 3 1/2-length victory in the at sloppy Saratoga.

Hold Me Back, the longest shot on the board at 17-1, rallied from last to be second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Quality Road, the 3-2 favorite. He was followed in the order of finish by Charitable Man, Warriors Reward, and Kensei. Our Edge, who set the pace for the opening half-mile, was eased.

The Travers victory coupled with his win in the Belmont Stakes in June should put Summer Bird atop the 3-year-old division heading into the fall.

"To me he is the champion colt right now," said winning trainer Tim Ice.

Considering Summer Bird didn't make his first start until March, that's quite an achievement.

"For him starting his first race in March, to be where he's at now could only show what a great horse he is," said Ice, who trains Summer Bird for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman.

Summer Bird is the 30th Belmont Stakes winner to also capture the Travers. The last one to do it was Birdstone, who happens to be Summer Bird's sire.

When Birdstone won the Travers, he did it in a driving rainstorm that had developed just moments before the race began. Saturday, Summer Bird had to do it over an extremely sloppy track made that way by heavy rains Friday night and day-long showers on Saturday.

But from the time he left the gate, Summer Bird showed jockey Kent Desormeaux that the slop was not going to be an issue. Expecting to be next-to-last in the seven-horse field, Desormeaux found himself a relatively close fourth as Our Edge set the pace, stalked by Jim Dandy winner Kensei.

Summer Bird was four wide on the first turn and then moved up into a stalking third while remaining four wide down the backside. He was simply galloping through the sloppy surface while Our Edge ran a half-mile in 46.88 seconds. Kensei, took over from a tiring Our Edge at the half-mile pole while Desormeaux maintained a hold on Summer Bird.

"I could have went to the front at the seven-eighths pole," Desormeaux said. "For at least a half a mile I had him under restraint."

Leaving the five-sixteenths pole, Desormeaux decided to open the race up and began to ask Summer Bird for run. By the quarter pole he had a length lead, and turning for home he continued to widen his advantage. Desormeaux hit Summer Bird three times left-handed, then twice right-handed before going back once more to his right hand. Summer Bird covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.83 in the slop and returned $7.80 as the second choice.

"I thought, let's stretch them out from here and force them to keep up with me instead of allowing it to be a European style of race," Desormeaux said. "With that being said, I got to my breaking point where I thought it was time to go, which was the five-sixteenths. I let him go and he took off full of run."

Hold Me Back, who was running on dirt for the first time since he finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby, raced last for the first six furlongs before rallying in the stretch to get second.

"He was second best today," said Bill Mott, who trains Hold Me Back for WinStar Farm. "He had a good trip, he ran a hard race. I thought he'd run good. When he left the three-eighths pole I thought we were in with a shot. The other horse just ran better than we did, but our horse ran a winning race."

Quality Road, who bucked John Velazquez off of him prior to loading, broke a bit slowly, and raced in attending position before tiring to third, beaten five lengths.

"He didn't break very good," Velazquez said. "I didn't want to ask him to run out of there. I sat right behind the other horses and he took it very well actually, much better than I thought he would. He did run a good race. He got tired down the lane."

A crowd of 34,221 showed up despite the elements. The crowd was down 16 percent from last year's 40,723. Ontrack handle was $6,853,155, down 17 percent from last year's $8,287,014.