08/30/2009 11:00PM

Summer Bird soars to top of division

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - At 7:20 a.m. Sunday, Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird were walking the shed row of the Clark Stakes barn at Saratoga. In a most appropriate order befitting the circumstances, it was Mine That Bird who was following Summer Bird.

Summer Bird's victory in Saturday's at sloppy Saratoga established the flashy chestnut colt as the pro-tem leader of the 3-year-old division heading into the fall. He is the only 3-year-old to have won two Grade 1 dirt stakes this year. (The sprinter Zensational has two Grade 1 wins on synthetics.)

"There's still four months left in the year, but I feel very good where I'm at," Tim Ice, the trainer of Summer Bird, said Sunday morning.

Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird - who missed the Travers after undergoing throat surgery - acknowledged that it will be tough for his gelding to overtake Summer Bird for divisional honors.

"There's no doubt as far as the championship goes it's going to take big efforts on my horse's part from here on out to try and win the championship," Woolley said.

Though Mine That Bird and Summer Bird have been like peas and carrots for the last month - stabled two stalls down from each other the last four weeks - they are headed their separate ways.

Summer Bird will van to Belmont Park by the end of this week and will most likely be pointed to the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup there Oct. 3. While Ice hasn't completely ruled out the Grade 1 Goodwood at Santa Anita on Oct. 10, he said he's more apt to run in the Gold Cup due in part to the availability of jockey Kent Desormeaux on that day. On Oct. 10 - the day of the Goodwood - Desormeaux is committed to ride Mr. Sidney for Bill Mott in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.

Ice believes that Desormeaux, who first got on Summer Bird for the Belmont Stakes, has played an important role in the colt's development.

"I think having Kent, with his experience in these races, has been a big asset to where we are now, having two wins in the Belmont and Travers," said Ice, who also was happy with a runner-up finish to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell. "This horse and Kent I think belong together."

If all goes well in the Gold Cup, Summer Bird will then ship to Santa Anita shortly thereafter to train up to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7. Late in his 2-year-old year, when in the barn of John Sadler, Summer Bird breezed nine times over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface before his owners, Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, decided to send the horse to Ice at Oaklawn Park near where they live.

"He loves Belmont," Ice said. "Why not take a chance in the Gold Cup and we'll see how he fares on the [synthetic] once we get him out there and train him."

While Summer Bird is likely to stay on the East Coast, Mine That Bird is headed West, first to New Mexico, then to California where he will make his next start in the $350,000 Goodwood at Santa Anita, where the Breeders' Cup will be held.

Mine That Bird was scheduled to fly via Federal Express on Tuesday from Newark Airport to El Paso, Texas. Following a one-night stand in Texas, Mine That Bird on Wednesday will van to Ruidoso Downs, where next Monday he will lead the post parade for the $2 million All-American Futurity, a Quarter Horse race. New Mexico is home for Woolley, who has been on the road since April.

"There ain't no place like home," Woolley said.

Woolley expressed some regret about not running Mine That Bird - who underwent throat surgery on Aug. 18 - in the Travers, especially given the fact that the track came up sloppy. Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby on a similar surface.

"Even if it would have been dry, it was going to be the same feeling," Woolley said. "The race was tailor-made the way it was going to set up for my horse to run well. Horses were all bunched up, my horse would have been 10 [lengths] or so behind the whole field - it was the perfect setup for my horse to come and close."

Though Ice has hardly left Summer Bird's side since he got to Saratoga, he will have to take some time away from the horse in late September and head home to Louisiana where his wife, Heather, is due to give birth to the couple's first child on Sept. 29.

One of Summer Bird's foes in the Jockey Club Gold Cup could be Quality Road, who finished third, beaten five lengths, as the favorite in the Travers. Prior to the Travers, Quality Road had run just once since winning the Florida Derby on March 28, that being a track-record-setting performance in the Amsterdam Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Trainer Todd Pletcher felt his horse ran extremely well in the Travers and that a jostling start hurt his colt's chances more than any lack of foundation.

"I thought the horse was well prepared," he said. "I thought he got the mile and a quarter fine, I don't think that had anything to do with him not winning. I think he gets the trip no problem. With a different post and with a little better break, he could have been a little closer."

Pletcher indicated that the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Goodwood were the two most likely choices for Quality Road's next start.

Hold Me Back, runner-up in the Travers, is likely to make his next start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park on Sept. 26. He won the Lane's End at Turfway in March. The $150,000 Ontario Derby at Woodbine on Sept. 27 also is possible, according to Elliott Walden, racing manager for WinStar Farm, the owners of Hold Me Back.