In this week’s Paulick Derby Index, Ray made note of the solitary vote for Summer Bird, thankfully without poking fun at the moron who actually voted for him. Oh wait, that was me! Yes, in my latest Top Ten Derby Contenders, I rank Summer Bird in tenth place:
1. Friesan Fire
2. Papa Clem
3. I Want Revenge
4. Musket Man
5. Quality Road
7. Mr. Hot Stuff
8. Chocolate Candy
9. Regal Ransom
10. Summer Bird
You may ask, am I insane? Do I honestly think he can defeat the top contenders? Well, maybe not, but I do think I’ve pegged a colt that will be a huge underlay on Derby Day, and could play a major role in the exotics. Plus, he and his connections are just such a compelling story.
Turf writer Jennie Rees authored a nice piece on Thursday about his jockey Chris Rosier, a once-cocky “punk” with less than 150 lifetime wins who went blind for six days in 2004 due to his diabetes. You may recall Rosier starred, along with Shane Sellers and Randy Romero, in the 2004 HBO documentary Jockey, where he probably said some things that he later regretted. After being away from racing for nearly two years, Rosier returned full-time only last summer, and now he’s riding in the Kentucky Derby. Not exactly "rags-to-riches" but more like the return of the Prodigal Son.
Summer Bird’s 34-year-old trainer Tim Ice struck out on his own only this year, after working for years as an assistant for Morris Nicks, Cole Norman and Keith Desormeaux. His first stakes-winner was the filly Affirmed Truth who won the Rainbow Miss Stakes at Oaklawn in March. How ironic if a first-time Derby trainer defeated the Toddster!
For his breeder-owners Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, Summer Bird will be their second Derby horse—G1 Flamingo Stakes runner-up Irish Actor managed a seventh-place finish in Sunday Silence’s muddy 1989 Derby. Admittedly, I know very little about this couple, as a Google search reveals nothing particular about their character, only that they have run horses at tracks all across the country, and among the horses they have bred is G1 La Brea victress (and one-time $10k claimer) Dearest Trickski. By flying under the radar, I assume they are good folks.
Sounds like the makings of a Cinderella story so far. And then there’s the horse himself. A homebred son of $10k stud Birdstone out of the Summer Squall mare Hong Kong Squall, his pedigree is rich in Kentucky Derby history. His sire Birdstone finished eighth in the 2004 Derby, but, skipping the Preakness, he came back to ruin Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown by upsetting the Belmont. His grandsire Grindstone and great-grandsire Unbridled are both Derby winners, while on his dam side there’s Derby runner-up Summer Squall (out of a Secretariat mare) who also sired 1999 Derby winner Charismatic, and his second dam is a daughter of 1987 Derby victor Alysheba (son of the great Classics runner-up Alydar). No questionable breeding here.
Why I really like his chances, though, is based on two things—his quick-improving career trajectory and his strong late running style. Unraced at two, his maiden effort at six furlongs on March 1—yes, just over seven weeks ago—resulted in a late-closing fourth-place finish, just one length behind the winner. It was a pretty extraordinary effort considering it was his first run after posting only three official workouts, and he raced wide (at one point, six wide) nearly the entire race. He broke his maiden next out, on March 19, also at Oaklawn. This time he went 1-1/16 mile, and again he raced far back from the leaders and wide. Coming around the final turn he takes the lead, but when Luv Gov makes a closing move on his inside, he reignites and wins easily by just over two lengths—under a handride by Rosier. In the 1-1/8 mile G2 Arkansas Derby, he trailed the entire field behind quick fractions, but, in nearly carbon-copy fashion, widely circles the field and is closing late on Papa Clem and Old Fashioned, passing both shortly after the finish line. His three Beyer figures: 65, 78, and 99.
Could he be simply an Oaklawn horse? Sure, that’s possible. And, yes, all three of his races thus far have been run the same way—trailing the field, making wide moves and closing fast down the middle of the track. He’s definitely green, although you can clearly view a maturing horse in watching his three efforts thus far. Is he in over his head attempting the Derby in only his fourth career start? Remember Big Brown? In no way am I saying the two are comparable at this point in time, but I am suggesting that a lightly-raced Summer Bird can be competitive.
After he works six furlongs on Friday morning at Churchill, we’ll see if the 12-1/2 hour van ride from Hot Springs took anything out of him. I, for one, am willing to give the Bird a chance.