12/03/2009 12:00AM

Trip cut short, Ice hopes for best


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Tim Ice is excused from paying any attention to the running of the Japan Cup Dirt on Saturday night, U.S. time, at Hanshin Racecourse in southwestern Japan. If he could care less, he would.

Ice will be preoccupied with the surgical recovery of Summer Bird, the undeclared champion 3-year-old colt of 2009, who was all dressed up and ready to roll in the JCD until he came out of a workout there on Nov. 21 with a nondisplaced fracture of the cannon bone in his right foreleg.

Summer Bird's sturdy pins already had carried the colors of Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman to victories this year in the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, plus a fourth-place finish to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7, making him the most accomplished colt in his division. The Japan race would have been Summer Bird's ninth start of the season, which he began as a maiden on March 1 at Oaklawn Park, but the experience proved to be a bridge too far.

"Up to that point he was doing very well, and I was very excited about the track, because the surface is a lot like Belmont's," Ice said Thursday. "That gave me even a little more confidence."

Ice was at Hollywood Park, not far from the side of Summer Bird in the international quarantine facility. The colt was scheduled for surgery on Friday at the track's Dolly Green Equine Hospital, where Dr. Wayne McIlwraith would be stabilizing the fracture with a single screw. After Summer Bird recovers from the procedure and is able to travel, he will join the Ice stable at Oaklawn Park.

With the immediate fate of his colt pretty much out of his hands, Ice was able to step back from his Far Eastern experience and reflect upon the events. It was a bittersweet way to end his first full season as a head trainer, especially with the colt who took him to such great heights.

"He's a very intelligent horse," said Ice, who turned 35 the day Summer Bird won the Belmont. "He takes care of himself. But he's also a very brave horse. So if it had to happen, I'd rather it happened in the work and not the race. I know in a race he wouldn't have stopped, no matter how much pain he was in, and there's no telling the severity of the damage then. He would have limped back before he would have stopped."

Hanshin Racecourse, about 250 miles from Tokyo, is located in the town of Takarazuka, a suburb of the Osaka/Kobe megalopolis, where some 10 million people reside. Kobe made international headlines in January of 1995 when it was hit hardest by an earthquake that measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and took more than 6,000 lives.

Ice knew he was wading into strange waters, and tried to do what he could to anticipate cultural differences. For starters, Summer Bird would be training and racing clockwise.

"Right after the Breeders' Cup, when we sent him back to the track at Santa Anita, we didn't turn him any way except for clockwise," Ice said. "I even let him gallop at little bit clockwise, at least as much as we could without getting into too much trouble."

Upon arrival at the Shiroi quarantine facility, not far from Tokyo's Narita Airport, Ice and his colt were in lockdown for several days.

"The track at the quarantine facility was very hard," Ice noted. "I didn't like it at all, and I didn't train him very hard. They could do a little more to improve that."

When they were released to Hanshin, the trainer busied himself with preparations for Summer Bird's all-important workout of Nov. 21.

"I saw it when he stumbled," Ice said. "He'd turned around to gallop off before getting into the work, and he just took a bad step. His adrenaline was flowing so much that he didn't show any kind of lameness until we got him back to the barn and unsaddled. He had a little bit of a knot, and then as time went on it just got worse. By the time we got him back in the stall, maybe 15 minutes later, it was pretty noticeable, and he was pretty sore.

"Their medication rules are a lot different. They're very anti-drugs. There was a veterinarian right there for us when it happened, but when it came to getting him out of pain, they didn't give him a shot. It was all oral administration. It wasn't Bute, but I couldn't tell you what it was.

"The only thing that was misconstrued was by the interpreter who told me about the X-rays," Ice added. "He said there was a small chip. That's what I reported to Dr. J. Then I looked at the X-rays myself and saw it was a fracture. I had to call him back and tell him it was a little more than a chip."

Summer Bird is not the first major American runner to return from a date in the Japan Cup Dirt the worse for wear. California star Lava Man actually competed in the 2005 running, staged at Tokyo Racecourse, but shredded the sole of his hoof in the process and left a bloody trail as he walked off the track. He returned in 2006 to win the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic.

Whether Summer Bird can make a comeback remains to be seen. The injury, though not unusual, will need time to heal. And if his recovery goes as expected, Ice said that the most exotic journey he'll be taking next year would be to Louisville.

"It was very hard to swallow," Ice said. "But the prognosis is good, so we're going to try to be optimistic that he'll be back as a 4-year-old. Hopefully, next year with the Breeders' Cup being run at Churchill on the dirt, we can have him ready for that."