01/13/2010 12:00AM

Summer Bird on the mend

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Barbara D. Livingston
Summer Bird, the likely champion 3-year-old of 2009, should be ready to resume training by March, said trainer Tim Ice.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Summer Bird had never raced when he arrived at Oaklawn Park a year ago. By Monday night, he could be a champion. Summer Bird is the favorite to win an Eclipse Award for outstanding 3-year-old colt of 2009, following a season in which he took down the Belmont Stakes, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

His connections, local owners K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman and trainer Tim Ice, will travel to Beverly Hills, Calif., for Monday night's awards ceremonies. Summer Bird, who is once again stabled at Oaklawn, is recuperating from a nondisplaced condylar fracture to his right foreleg sustained Nov. 29.

"As long as everything goes right and there are no setbacks, we'll start him training March 1," Ice said. "I don't think the time off is going to be a huge issue, because he ran all summer and fall."

Summer Bird won his maiden at Oaklawn last March, then was third in the Arkansas Derby before coming into his own over the summer.

"As far as a campaign this year, we're looking to go to Belmont this summer, so when he's ready, we'll start looking for a race," Ice said. "The main thing is not pushing him.

"I think the best is ahead of him as long as everything goes right once we get back. I really thought last year, before the injury, he'd improve as a 4-year-old. He'll be stronger. He was growing as we were racing him last year, and I thought that his 4-year-old season would be a very good season for him."

Ice said the ultimate goal for Summer Bird is a return trip to the Breeders' Cup Classic, which this year will be at Churchill Downs. The success that the horse had at Belmont and Saratoga last season makes handicap races in New York his probable route to get there, Ice said.

Summer Bird made his most recent start in the BC Classic at Santa Anita, finishing fourth by three lengths in what was his first race over a synthetic track. He then shipped overseas for the Japan Cup Dirt, but had to be declared after coming out of his final workout at Hanshin Racecourse with the fracture. Summer Bird came back to the United States and had surgery at Hollywood Park on Dec. 4. A screw was placed in the injury site in a procedure designed to promote healing by pulling the fracture line together.

"I'm very happy with how the surgery went," Ice said.

Summer Bird is now walking the shed row. Earlier this month, his half-brother Indy Squall arrived at Ice's barn. Bred and owned by the Jayaramans, the 3-year-old is by the A.P. Indy stud Jump Start.

"He'll make his debut here at Oaklawn," Ice said. "He should be ready by March."

Ice, who is in his second year as a head trainer, has 30 runners on the grounds for the meet that opens Friday.

"I've got some young horses that will be making their first starts here," he said. "I'm very optimistic about this meet."

And for all that 2010 might hold for Summer Bird.

Milligan seeks second Oaklawn title

Trainer Allen Milligan had a breakout year in 2009. It began with him winning the Oaklawn training title by one race over two-time defending champ Steve Asmussen. Milligan went on to win a total of 96 races and $1.6 million in purses last year, both tops for him since he began training in 1999.

"We had a good crop of babies, and we had a good year with the horses we claimed," he said.

Milligan led the Oaklawn standings for much of the meet last season, but found himself in a dogfight for the title on the final card.

"I started the day one up," he said. "Steve won an early race, and then my horse won and then I had to sit there and watch Steve's run the rest of the day."

Milligan has 40 horses at Oaklawn this meet but sees a title repeat as a tough order. A year ago, he had both a full barn on the grounds and overflow horses at a training center near Oaklawn.

"I won't have the starts that I had last meet," Milligan said. "Last year, I was in this spot and this spot only, so I had a lot of horses. This year, we split the horses and have 35 at Delta. We had so many of the same kind of horses that we had to go somewhere different with them."

Milligan, 43, is the son of trainer Eddie Milligan and a former assistant to Frank Brothers. Among the top horses in his barn is Bella Diamante, the runner-up in the Grade 3, $500,000 Delta Princess. She will run Friday night at Delta Downs in the $60,000 Genesis and is a candidate for the 3-year-old filly series at Oaklawn.

Oaklawn's defending riding champ is Terry Thompson.

Borel plans to ride Monday

Jockey Calvin Borel, who last week received a six-day suspension from the Kentucky Racing Commission for a riding infraction at Churchill that he had appealed, will not be able to compete for a portion of the first two weeks of the meet. He is not allowed to ride Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. He will, however, be in action here Monday, riding Dryfly in the $100,000 Smarty Jones, said his agent, Jerry Hissam. Borel also will be able to ride the meet's next race date, Jan. 21, before completing his suspension on the assigned dates of Jan. 22-24. He is coming off a year in which he won the Kentucky Derby with Mine that Bird and the Preakness with Rachel Alexandra.

* Oaklawn has a new glass-faced racing office as part of a broader expansion and renovation project that was completed during the off-season. The changes to Oaklawn's exterior are confined to the south end of the grandstand and include a 52,500-square-foot addition that has enabled the track to expand its gaming operation. The new racing office is nestled alongside a new gaming entrance that takes patrons up escalators to an upscale gaming area.

* In a new policy, the minimum payout on a $2 wager will now be $2.10. It had been $2.20.

* Dublin, winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful, is among the top 3-year-olds who have been working at Oaklawn.