08/24/2009 12:00AM

Trainer Report: Tim Ice


Tim Ice established early on in his career that he could train a route horse. His first career win came last fall with a sprint-to-route prospect who paid $109. But Amber Star has not been the most significant upset of Ice's young career. That came in June, when he sent out Summer Bird to an 11-1 win in racing's ultimate distance test, the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.

Ice, who has a 25-horse stable at Louisiana Downs, will be seeking his second Grade 1 win on Saturday, when he saddles Summer Bird in the Travers at Saratoga. For the 35-year-old Ice, it's been a whirlwind year and a half since he opened a public stable. Ice had a number of runner-up finishes last year at Louisiana Downs before breaking through with his first winner in September 2008. From there he set up shop at Oaklawn Park, where he went 13 for 61 this past spring and developed Summer Bird.

"Oaklawn was really my first meet," Ice said. "The horses were all ready to run by the time I'd gotten there. Louisiana Downs, when I first started, it was a little slow. I had a bunch of 2-year-olds that weren't quite ready or needed to go two turns. I looked at Oaklawn as my best chance to be able to do well."

Ice had 15 horses at Oaklawn and received Summer Bird on Jan. 29. The horse finished fourth in his career debut March 1, then Ice moved him to two turns for a maiden special weight March 19. Summer Bird opened up on the field in the stretch, hung briefly, and was headed, then accelerated again for a 2 1/4-length win.

"He showed me he just didn't have one big burst of speed," Ice said. "There were more gears left to him, a lot of untapped potential and that was our reasoning for trying him in the Arkansas Derby."

Summer Bird ran third in the Arkansas Derby to cap Ice's outstanding meet and send the young horseman to the Kentucky Derby. Summer Bird finished sixth, and after the race Ice decided he would add blinkers for the Belmont.

"Watching the Kentucky Derby and going back and watching the Arkansas Derby, I noticed when he is in front of a crowd he kind of cocks his head," Ice said. "He's a very curious horse, and he was just paying more attention to the grandstand than running. I thought that focus-wise it would help him, and it paid off in the Belmont. The blinkers weren't necessarily to put speed into him, they were more to make him concentrate."

Ice, a former assistant to trainers Keith Desormeaux, Cole Norman, and Morris Nicks, is adamant about putting a good foundation into a horse. It is a belief that serves him well in two-turn races.

"One thing that I try to make sure when I do stretch a horse out is that condition-wise, they're 100 percent ready to go," he said. "I also try to make sure they're 100 percent ready to go first time back off the layoff. If you don't have a good foundation in a horse and you send them out there not ready to run, they can hurt themselves more by racing unfit than they can anything else. They can overexert themselves."

Ice's client list includes K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman, breeders who race Summer Bird and who provide him with young horses to develop. The trainer said he wants to maintain a stable that focuses on quality rather than quantity, and right now finds himself with a barn filled with horses who are 2 and 3.

"I like young horses," Ice said. "There's always hope for a Summer Bird."