NEW YORK - This was a Belmont for the Birds.
It was Summer Bird, not Mine That Bird and jockey Calvin Borel, who came roaring down the long stretch and won the final jewel of the Triple Crown on Saturday.
For a brief moment on the turn for home, Borel looked like a winner. His tough little gelding took the lead, and even Borel believed his victory guarantee was assured.
“I thought I was home free,” he said, “but the other horses galloped by.”
They sure did.
With the crowd of 52,861 cheering on the leaders in the stretch, Mine That Bird passed Dunkirk. But it was Summer Bird who pulled away from them both for a 2¾-length victory, with Dunkirk second and Mine That Bird third in the field of 10 3-year-olds
The upset ended Borel’s bid to become the first jockey to win a personal Triple Crown, and he failed to deliver on a guarantee of victory in the Belmont Stakes. Borel won the Kentucky Derby aboard Mine That Bird, then took the Preakness with the filly Rachel Alexandra.
Summer Bird, sent off at 11-1 odds, gave jockey Kent Desormeaux a Belmont victory he desperately wanted.
“I hope from now on we’ll talk about winning one,” Desormeaux said.
Last year, he won the Derby and Preakness aboard Big Brown, only to have to pull up the colt in the Belmont. And in 1998, he brought Real Quiet into the Belmont for a Triple try only to get beat by Victory Gallop by a nose in a heartbreaking defeat.
Charitable Man was fourth Saturday, followed by Luv Gov, Flying Private, Brave Victory, Mr. Hot Stuff, Chocolate Candy and Miner’s Escape.
There was an inquiry filed by Charitable Man’s jockey Alan Garcia against Dunkirk for interference, but it was disallowed by the racing stewards.
Rob Carr / AP
Mine That Bird, ridden by jockey Calvin Borel, finished third in the Belmont Stakes.
The Triple Crown season ended the way it started — with an upset. Mine That Bird was all but discounted in the Derby, but won at 50-1 odds — and his 6¾-length winning margin was the largest in 63 years. Two weeks later, Borel was obligated to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness for new owner Jess Jackson, and the filly beat Mine That Bird by a length.
In the Belmont, Mine That Bird was sent off as the 6-5 favorite, but he seemed a bit more frisky than usual in the paddock and on the walk through the tunnel to the track. And he was a little too eager in the race, pulling Borel into contention sooner than anyone expected.
Summer Bird, meanwhile, looked almost regal before the start. The chestnut son of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone — yes, the same sire as Mine That Bird — took the rail route usually the trademark of a Borel ride before breaking outside and into the clear.
“The colt broke like a rocket,” Desormeaux said. “He absolutely dragged me around the race track. I had an armchair ride until I found some room. I found room.”
Summer Bird won the Belmont in just his fifth career start. Owned by Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman, the colt did not run as a 2-year-old. In his third start, he was a closing third in the Arkansas Derby and came back and was a closing sixth in the Derby — 13 lengths behind Mine That Bird.
Summer Bird, trained by the recently licensed Tim Ice, returned $25.80. $9.30 and $4.70. Dunkirk paid $5.40 and $3.60, and Mine That Bird returned $2.60 to show.
Ice seemed stunned by his colt’s accomplishment, which came on the trainer’s 35th birthday. As he walked into the postrace news conference, he was serenaded with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“Right now it’s just unexplainable,” he said. “If my career goes nowhere from here, I’ve got a Belmont win.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
But for now, the Belmont remains a race usually reserved for long shots. The favorite has won only six of the last 30 runnings of the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races.
“He was tired. He was used, but he looked all right,” Woolley said. “We’re a little down, disappointed right now. He ran a great race. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ll give him a good eight weeks off and let him freshen up.”
Orb is the even-money favorite at Saturday's Preakness, and there's a growing feeling that this 3-year-old bay colt may be special enough to give thoroughbred racing its first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.