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Sweet 'Bird' of Youth delivers for Desormeaux, Ice

ELMONT, N.Y. – Redemption came from off the pace Saturday afternoon, on a day when speed ruled and youth was served.

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, after six failed tries that included “the toughest beat in history” with Real Quiet in 1998 and last year’s aborted Triple Crown attempt with Big Brown, capped a four-win day with his first Belmont Stakes victory aboard Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini “Devi” Jayaraman’s 11-1 longshot Summer Bird before a crowd of 52,861 at Belmont Park. Summer Bird paid $25.80 to win.

“I left the house this morning with a will to win this race, because it means beauty, class and elegance,” Desormeaux said after Summer Bird brought him through the middle of the lane for a 2 ¾-length victory over Dunkirk in the 141st running of the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion” – the longest and oldest leg of racing’s Triple Crown for three-year-olds.

Mine That Bird, the 50-1 Kentucky Derby winner, Preakness runner-up and Belmont Stakes post-time favorite, was third, followed by Charitable Man, Luv Gov, Flying Private, Brave Victory, Mr. Hot Stuff, Chocolate Candy and Miner’s Escape.

It was a sweet victory for Desormeaux, for it made a first-time Belmont Stakes winner of first-year trainer Tim Ice. A former assistant to Desormeaux’s brother, Keith, Ice turned 35 years old on Saturday.

“I’m taking it all in, enjoying it,” said Ice, a native of East Liverpool, Ohio who also worked for trainers Cole Norman and Morris Hicks. “If my career goes nowhere from here, I’ve got a Belmont win. They can’t take that away from me.”

The Belmont was also a welcome present for Desormeaux, who 11 years ago, was within a jump of becoming racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner with Real Quiet. Victory Gallop, trained by Elliott Walden who was on crutches as the result of a basketball injury, got up to nail them by a nose at the wire. That beat not only cost Desormeaux the Triple Crown, but the connections a $5 million bonus. And Desormeaux was criticized for moving too early.

Saturday, Desormeaux spoiled fellow jockey Calvin Borel’s chance to become the first jockey in history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes on two different horses when Summer Bird came home the winner in 2:27.54.

“We’re a little down, disappointed right now,” said Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley, who has been on crutches as the result of a motorcycle accident. “I thought (Calvin) might have moved a hair early, but that’s a judgment call. I know he was out there to win the race.”

Borel had won the Kentucky Derby on Mine That Bird at 50-1 then took off the mount to ride the sensational filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. When Rachel Alexandra’s connections opted to pass the Belmont, Borel was back aboard. He even guaranteed victory.

If all seemed right to Borel before the race, he might have had an inkling that this day may turn out different.

A day-long rain on Friday, left many Belmont Park fans wondering what to expect on Saturday. The main track started off as “good,” after the sixth race, it was upgraded to “fast.” By that time, two track records were nearly broken.

After the Grade 1 Acorn, where his favored Justwhistledixie ran second to front-running Gabby’s Golden Gal, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said: “It’s going to be an interesting Belmont.”

That became true when Dunkirk, a $3.7 million underachiever, who had been coming off the pace in his races, went to the lead to set a pace of 23.41, 47.13, 1:12.43 and 1:37.86. Most expected Charitable Man, the Peter Pan winner, would be on the lead.

Dunkirk appeared to back up at the quarter-pole, but when Mine That Bird and Charitable Man launched their bids, he found new courage and came back.

“I couldn’t believe I was on the lead early,” said Dunkirk’s jockey, John Velazquez. “There was no pace. The way he broke, he was already there on the lead, so I didn’t want to hold him back. I didn’t see Mine That Bird, and he came to me at the eighth-pole. Then, I got after my horse and he put up a real good fight and came back to beat Mine That Bird for second. He just ran his eyeballs out, but unfortunately, we just got beat.”

The reason he got beat was that, while Dunkirk was battling Mine That Bird and Charitable Man, Desormeaux had finally gotten Summer Bird out of traffic and sprung him for a wide run around the turn.

“When I got the opportunity to present this colt, he just laid down and took off,” Desormeaux said. “He really exploded the last probably 500 yards and there was never any doubt turning for home after he changed leads. The only way I was going to get beat was if there was somebody coming behind me. He had dead-aim on the leaders.”

The scuffling in the lane among Dunkirk, Mine That Bird and Charitable Man lead to an inquiry, but in the end, the results stood. And Summer Bird was the winner.

The “Ice” Man – and Desormeaux, – had finally cometh.

 

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