10/04/2009 11:00PM

Summer Bird immensely improved

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Music Note's performance in the Beldame bodes well for her chances in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

NEW YORK - There was plenty of doubt about how much impact Saturday's five big Grade 1 events at Belmont Park would have on the Breeders' Cup even before the races were run. And now that the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, the Flower Bowl, the Vosburgh, and the Beldame have been run, plenty of doubt remains. For one, the horses moving on to the Breeders' Cup will certainly not encounter slop or soft, deep turf at Santa Anita.

But even if the big races at Belmont didn't help clarify the Breeders' Cup picture, they, and other noteworthy stakes, left some impressions:

* Summer Bird, who became the first horse since Easy Goer 20 years ago to win the Belmont Stakes, the Travers, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in a single season, has improved dramatically from early in the season. And perhaps his most significant improvement is positional speed. Summer Bird no longer has to be at the mercy of the pace, which he was vulnerable to when he was a deep closer.

As Summer Bird targets the Breeders' Cup Classic (the Breeders' Cup Turf is an option, too), we will hear about how he did not train well on synthetic tracks in his earlier days. Summer Bird still might dislike Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface, but we should keep in mind that Summer Bird is a completely different, vastly superior animal. So maybe he will handle a synthetic track better now.

Quality Road ran big finishing second in the Gold Cup, although it does seem that, at least at the moment, he's not quite a 10-furlong horse. If Quality Road were mine, I would point him to the Cigar Mile.

And one last note on the Gold Cup: Early pacesetter Tizway looked like he might finish last or next to last turning for home. I'm not sure what it means that he wound up finishing third, easily.

* That "clunk" you heard as the horses approached the finish of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was the jaws of everyone watching hitting the floor as Interpatation, the rankest of outsiders at 43-1, came back on to win easily after being passed in the stretch by the 4-5 Gio Ponti. Perhaps the deep footing played a role in Gio Ponti's failing to stay in his first attempt at 1 1/2 miles, but still - Interpatation? Gio Ponti, even if he didn't like the footing, couldn't put away Interpatation, who was 0 for his last 17 dating back more than two years?

In regard to the Breeders' Cup, Gio Ponti looks to be in a tricky spot. If he targets the Turf, he will have more favorable footing on which to negotiate the 12 furlongs, but he will be facing opponents who are many lengths better than Interpatation. If Gio Ponti opts for the Classic, the 10 furlongs will be in his wheelhouse, but he will have to improve on his limited synthetic track form by many lengths.

* I know that Fabulous Strike has won his share of big races, but I still can't help but feel bad for him for a couple of tough beats he has taken this year. He was brutally unlucky to get nailed in the Grade 1 Carter last April after contesting a blistering pace at a seven-furlong distance that's not his best, and for the second straight year, he was unlucky to get nailed in the Vosburgh. On Saturday, Belmont's main track started off fast, both in condition and time, but became much slower when it became sloppy, and it was really sloppy for the Vosburgh. So the Vosburgh's early fractions of 22.33 and 45.38 seconds, while not seeming particularly fast at first glance, were actually very fast for the footing. Note that Go Go Shoot, who lost by a length to Fabulous Strike last time out in the Vanderbilt after leading him early, set the pace in the Vosburgh under stiff pressure from Fabulous Strike, and this time finished 11 1/2 lengths behind that rival.

* Music Note is back, and off her Beldame, her second straight decisive score in a Grade 1, she might have the best chance of any horse coming out of Saturday's races at Belmont to have an impact on the Breeders' Cup. In fact, she should have a profound impact on the Ladies' Classic whether Zenyatta runs in it or not.

* Not sure what it says when Awesome Gem, who really does prefer finishing second to winning, took Saturday's Hawthorne Gold Cup in going-away fashion. But I'm going to guess that it's not flattering to those who finished behind him.

* He's flying under the radar right now, but Gone Astray, who added Saturday's Ohio Derby at Thistledown to his earlier domination of the Pennsylvania Derby, has blossomed since finally getting a chance to go two turns. Then again, you would expect that of a Phipps -bred. Gone Astray could become an important horse next year.

* Maybe he runs only as fast as necessary to win, but Lookin at Lucky again did not run fast when he extended his undefeated streak to four and won his second straight Grade 1 Sunday in the Norfolk at Oak Tree at Santa Anita. Lookin at Lucky's final time of 1:43.11 for the 1 1/16 miles was barely better than the 1:43.19 it took the filly Blind Luck to win the Grade 1 Oak Leaf at the same distance two races earlier. And while Blind Luck won nicely, it's not like she sprouted wings. Truth is, horses who are capable of suddenly running much faster than they have if that's what's needed to get the job done are very rare, if they exist at all.

As for Blind Luck, her Oak Leaf victory was a big boost to the unfortunately injured Mi Sueno and the Del Mar Debutante form. Mi Sueno beat Blind Luck by a length in the Debutante, but the race was panned because it came up much slower than Mi Sueno's Sorrento score. Maybe the Debutante wasn't so bad after all.