Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bye bye, busted Bird

I was really hoping for a comeback by Summer Bird, but The Blood-Horse reports that the 2009 Belmont Stakes, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner has been retired, unable to return from suffering a hairline fracture last fall while training for the Japan Cup Dirt.

While Mine That Bird won "the big one," the Kentucky Derby, and was a 2-year-old champion in Canada in 2008, it seemed clear that the bird with highest altitude potential was Summer Bird. His Belmont win was impressive. And while he got run off his feet by Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational, he couldn't have bounced back any better than his Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup victories. He was the first horse since Easy Goer in 1989 to pull off that particular triple. Plus, his fourth-place finish behind Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic -- Summer Bird's first-ever run over synthetic -- suggested he was talented and versatile enough to perhaps do great things at 4.

Then came the trip to Japan.

I can't fault his breeders and owners, Drs. K.K. and Vilasini "Devi" Jayaraman, for taking such an ambitious shot. The colt seemed up to it. And they were riding high on an outstanding season that had already cemented a 3-year-old championship for their homebred son of Birdstone.

"We've been in racing for 30 years and he gave us our greatest thrills, especially when he won the Belmont Stakes," said K.K. Jayaraman. "He was just a pleasure to be around, and because of him we met a lot of wonderful people. It was a great year, and he took us to places we would never have gone."

The Blood-Horse reports that the Jayaramans would drive to all of Summer Bird's race. I assume they'd have taken a plane to Japan, but that race just wasn't to be.

Upon returning to the States and having surgery to repair his broken cannon bone, Summer Bird (after some rest) went back into training, this time with Tim Ritchey, instead of Tim Ice, who had trained him to the championship season. But after some work with Ritchey, new x-rays determined Summer Bird's leg had not healed enough to withstand the rigors of training and racing. So, he is retired with four wins from just nine starts (which makes me a bit nervous as he heads to stud at an undetermined farm) for $2,323,040.

In his Blood-Horse story, Steve Haskin calls Summer Bird "a throwback to a time when horses were fast, tough and could run all day."

I can agree on two points with Summer Bird; he was pretty fast and could run pretty far by today's standards. Unfortunately, nine starts doesn't particularly suggest "tough."

I hope he gets plenty of very sound mares, and some with stamina of their own. Please don't try to breed Summer Bird to sprinting females in order to get fleeter foals; you'll just as likely end up with a horse that fares poorly at any distance. Not enough speed to sprint, nor enough stamina to route. But, bred to milers and and classic-bred mares, Summer Bird might follow his surprisingly effective young sire in getting a few classic winners of his own.

Let's just hope his get, can get more than nine trips around the yard.


  1. This horse was a bull. I was around him a lot last summer during my research for '6 Weeks.' Summer Bird was always mild and curious. He looked liked eerily like Curlin and was, for much of the time, referred to as "The Other Bird." He flipped that name on its head with wins in the Travers and JCGC.

    Too bad, he could have been a "throwback," but fell short by a length, or maybe a pole.

  2. I was thrumbing through the Thoroughbred Times stud directory and duly noted the high number of stallions with few starts.
    Some very random examples
    Candy Ride six starts $749,000
    Cuve nine starts $402,000
    Greatness 10 starts $49,000

    Some modern day veterans
    Inditab 36 starts $531,000
    One Nice Cat 28 starts $163,000
    Political Force 17 starts $607,000

    Then I came across Gemma's Star
    Started 22 times at two, winning three times and winning $65,000
    At three won three of six starts including two Calder Stakes and $92,000
    Winless in three starts at four.

    Total 31 starts and $166,000

    Breeders and yearling buyers will opt for the horses that ran only a few times but were brilliantly fast over horses that accumulated their earnings during many trips to the post.

    This genetic preference is building up in the gene pool.

  3. The thing that will always stick out most to me about Summer Bird was rookie trainer Tim Ice's comment the days leading up to the BC Classic. He said that he wanted to make sure Summer Bird did not see Zenyatta in the paddock before the race, because he felt his runner would get totally intimidated by her if he noticed her and her Amazonian physique.

    I could never figure out if that was Tim Ice projecting, or if Summer Bird really would have been intimidated in the paddock by Zenyatta.

    David H.

  4. Summer Bird was a great late-bloomer, it's a shame to see him go after such a short career. I think his Breeders' Cup Classic race was a really good race against such a good field.

  5. I think Summer Bird's Classic was a great run by him, but not so much because of the field, which was (as I've pointed out before) a weird hodgepodge of dirt, turf and synth runners.

    Put that race on traditional dirt and Zen probably still wins (but not definitely), Gio Ponti and Twice Over are nowhere to be found, and Summer Bird finishes second. ... *Maybe* first.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.