Summer Bird Displays His Pedigree at Travers

By Andrew Beyer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 30, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., Aug. 29 -- The nation's 3-year-old colts have been overshadowed by the filly Rachel Alexandra, and so the winner of the Travers Stakes could not claim the distinction of being the best of his generation. Summer Bird will have to settle for being merely the best male 3-year-old thoroughbred after his victory in the slop Saturday at Saratoga.

The late-blooming Summer Bird had won the Belmont Stakes in an upset, and he proved that he was no fluke. He drew away to win by 3 1/2 lengths over long-shot Hold Me Back while the highly regarded favorite, Quality Road, finished third. But Summer Bird's performance also underscored just how dominant Rachel Alexandra is. Between his Belmont and Travers victories, Summer Bird ran into the filly in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth, and she routed him by six lengths.

Quality Road had been the main object of attention before the Travers. He had the potential for genuine stardom. His brilliant form in Florida this winter would have made him the solid favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but an intractable hoof problem knocked him out of the race and sidelined him for four months. In the interim, owner Edward Evans hired a new trainer, Todd Pletcher, and made the Travers his objective. Quality Road returned to action Aug. 3 and smashed the track record for six furlongs in a stakes race.

Pletcher might have liked to give the colt another tuneup, but he didn't have time. Many people wondered if a single, short race was sufficient preparation for a demanding 1 1/4 -mile test. The answer, apparently, was no.

Quality Road broke a bit late, but settled into a decent position on the rail behind the pacesetters Our Edge and Kensei. (The latter is Rachel Alexandra's stablemate, and she bypassed this race in part because Kensei was in it.) The stretch-running Summer Bird was unexpectedly close to the leaders, too. Jockey Kent Desormeaux had anticipated making a rally from far behind, just as he had done in the Belmont, but Summer Bird had other ideas.

"He wanted to run today," Desormeaux said. "I could have gone past the leaders at the seven-eighths pole," on the first turn.

Kensei inherited the lead briefly on the backstretch, when Our Edge tired, but Summer Bird immediately moved up to challenge -- and went past him with ease. Quality Road was still on the rail, and jockey John Velazquez said, "I had to wait for running room."

But even when he got room, Quality Road couldn't accelerate fast enough to keep pace with Summer Bird, the 140th Travers was as good as over. Summer Bird drew off to win in 2 minutes 2.83 seconds -- a respectable time.

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