06/10/2009 11:00PM

Summer Bird may not love synthetic

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Barbara D. Livingston
After winning the Belmont on dirt, will Summer Bird struggle if he returns to a synthetic surface in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita?

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The connections of Summer Bird are talking about the Breeders' Cup Classic as a late-season goal for the Belmont Stakes winner.

It's a good plan, with a big snag. The Classic will be run again this year on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita. Summer Bird has never raced on synthetic, but he trained at Santa Anita for two months last fall. It was enough time for his former trainer, John Sadler, to recognize that Summer Bird's future was on dirt.

Some horses handle synthetic, and others do not. Summer Bird "was not handling Santa Anita at all well," Sadler said. "It wasn't working on these tracks. He had filling everywhere, and basically we decided to get him out of there."

Sadler was not being critical, just pointing out facts.

"I don't want to knock synthetic surfaces because that's where we make our living," he said. "I've been a beneficiary [of synthetics]."

In fact, synthetic was one reason owner-breeders Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman originally sent Summer Bird to Sadler. They had bred Dearest Trickski, the filly Sadler claimed for $32,000 from another owner and subsequently won seven synthetic-track races with, including a Grade 1, 2, and 3. Impressed with Sadler's work, the Jayaramans sent Sadler the claiming-caliber Rare Ribbon and Turn to the King, before Summer Bird.

Summer Bird had his first Santa Anita workout Nov. 6, three furlongs in 38 seconds.

"We weren't expecting a lot of fast early works or anything," Sadler said. "He's a Birdstone, and looked like the type that would be good around two turns."

Summer Bird worked once a week through the end of the year; a six-furlong team work Dec. 17 caught the eye of the clocker for Handicapper's Report. He gave Summer Bird's workout a "B" grade, and wrote that "both horses seemed to pick it up on their own power through the lane as they concluded the move together in 115.0 without being set down; a good move for these two; a bit better than it might look."

But for Summer Bird, the surface was a struggle. "He was a good-looking horse and we always liked him, it just wasn't working on these tracks," Sadler said.

After a six-furlong workout Dec. 30, Sadler recommended Summer Bird return to dirt. The colt shipped to trainer Tim Ice at Oaklawn. Sadler forgot about him until early April.

"He ran a good third in the Arkansas Derby, and I said 'Aha, I remember him,' " Sadler said. "He had big, long action, looked like he would be good around two turns. It's not surprising he's done so well."

But if Summer Bird returns to California for the Breeders' Cup, the question will be whether he can do as well on a surface that chased him out of the state once already.

Winners, losers, and ones to watch

The handicapping notebook is full again. Time to clean it out, with stuff like this:

* Glad at least one newspaper selector had the guts to pick Summer Bird ($25.80) in print - Daily Racing Form's ace Toronto handicapper Ron Gierkink tabbed the Belmont winner. Summer Bird was not the first big-race longshot Gierkink delivered. He also picked Cloudy's Knight ($38.70) in the 2007 Canadian International, and Action This Day ($55.60) in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

* If trainer Bob Baffert is serious about knocking off the queen, he will need a jockey for Cry and Catch Me. The 4-year-old cruised in her allowance comeback on Sunday, after which Baffert said, "Our plan is to knock off Zenyatta by the end of the year." By then, Cry and Catch Me may be up to it. Is she as good as in 2007, when she won a Grade 1 in her third start? "She is better," Baffert said, knowing her jockey will jump ship. Mike Smith has ridden Cry and Catch Me in all five of her starts. He also is the regular rider for Zenyatta.

* Bucked shins was the reason 2-year-old speedball Track N Attack stopped so suddenly June 4 in the Willard Proctor Stakes. Second choice in the betting, Track N Attack set a fast pace, hit a wall at the eighth pole, bucked shins, and finished sixth. Out 45 days.

* Raise the River now has the dubious distinction of losing as the favorite in 8 of 9 starts. A 4-year-old California-bred maiden, he lost June 6 by a head. But that was against open company. So you better watch out when Raise the River runs back against statebreds, right? Wrong.

* Trainer Eddie Plesa compared 2-year-old El Kingdom to an NBA superstar. Plesa told The Blood-Horse that the $450,000 son of El Prado "reminds me of LeBron James." El Kingdom worked a half-mile Thursday at Calder, while out in California another unraced El Prado 2-year-old is among the best-lookers on the circuit. Bob Baffert trains the $1 million colt for newly formed Legends Racing. The imposing and unnamed colt is out of Swift and Classy, and already looks like a 4-year-old. Kentucky Derby futures, perhaps?

* Einstein should win the Grade 1 Foster Handicap on Saturday, his first start since a close-call win in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. But it's always fun to knock a favorite, so here goes - maybe the Turf Classic win by Einstein was not so great. After all, two-three-four finishers Cowboy Cal, Court Vision, and Zambezi Sun returned to run ninth, fourth, and 10th, respectively, in the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont Park. Who ran fifth? Oh yes, that was Thorn Song, next-out winner of the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile.

* She is only 2 years old, has not yet breezed, and her trainer is slow bringing them along. But watch out for Ain't She Sweet, a full sister to Life Is Sweet and Sweet Catomine. Ain't She Sweet is in training with John Shirreffs. She will run when she is good and ready.

* Not that a three-furlong team work is a precursor to fame, but Holloween Candy turned heads June 7 when she blazed a bullet 34.60 seconds. It was the same time as her workmate, and reportedly a lot easier. Jerry Hollendorfer trains Holloween Candy, a 2-year-old filly by Candy Ride owned by Jenny Craig. It was her third work. Look out, Del Mar.

* The late trainer Eddie Gregson long ago warned about colts sired by Bertrando. They are habitually slow from the gate, Gregson said, and he was right. The theme continued June 5 with Bertran Hill. A second-start maiden colt by Bertrando, Bertran Hill broke slowly at 6-5 and finished off the board in race 2.

* After watching the suicide pace June 6 in the Ack Ack Handicap, a 7 1/2-furlong race in which Liberian Freighter moved early to the lead before weakening, a handicapper can reach only one sensible conclusion. Barring another ungodly pace war, Liberian Freighter is a "good thing" July 5 in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Triple Bend.

* Have you noticed the excessive number of A.C. Avila trainees that finish second? Avila is only 5 for 54 this year in the win column, but has 11 seconds. A $2 win bet on every Avila starter produced a $62.80 loss; a $2 place bet produced a 40-cent profit. Guess that means backing longshot Unusual Smoke to place Saturday in the Grade 2 Californian.

* Looking for a bad-trip play? Check out race 8 Sunday, a second-level allowance sprint in which Guns on the Table breaks from post 6 at six furlongs. His bad trip May 16 in the Los Angeles Handicap (off slow, blocked inside) is necessary viewing for anyone with a high-speed Internet connection.

* The 2-year-old colt Zip Quik made an auspicious debut June 4 in the Willard Proctor. He broke slowly, finished fast, and galloped out strongly past the wire. Why did trainer Patrick Biancone run a first-time starter in a stakes? "I wanted to run him five and a half, and there was no five and a half [maiden race]," Biancone said. "Hopefully he will win next time," against maidens, "and have two races when he goes against real horses in August."

* No matter how Mr. Napper Tandy runs in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Californian on Saturday on Hollywood's Cushion Track, he must be considered Aug. 2 at Del Mar when he shortens to 1 1/16 miles and switches to a surface he loves (Polytrack). From a betting perspective, the best-case scenario is that Mr. Napper Tandy runs poorly Saturday to cloud his form and inflate his odds at Del Mar.