Compared to Mine That Bird, Summer Bird is an odd duck.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, the Tim Ice-trained colt debuted in January. He finished a fast-closing fourth in a maiden race at Oaklawn Park.
Next time out, he handily won at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, beating fellow Belmont Stakes hopeful Luv Gov and six others.
He jostled his way into the 3-year-old classics picture with a surprising third in the Grade II Arkansas Derby three weeks later, prompting racing observers to wonder just how good this colt might become.
Summer Bird didn't supply them with a satisfactory answer in his next outing. He broke 16th in a field of 19 in the Kentucky Derby, but steadily closed on his rivals to rally for sixth place.
Perhaps the Belmont Stakes will finally end the speculation.
The fact that he improved so dramatically, in such a short time, to finish on the board in a graded stakes race, just one-and-a-quarter lengths behind the winner, marks him as a colt with a bright future.
Papa Clem, the winner of the Arkansas Derby, had finished second in races to Pioneer of the Nile, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, and highly regarded Friesan Fire, the victor of the Louisiana Derby.
Old Fashioned was near the top of everyone's list of Kentucky Derby favorites following a seven-and-a-half-length victory in the Grade II Remsen in November at Aqueduct. He earned another victory in the Southwest Stakes and then finished second in the Rebel before his second-place effort in the Arkansas Derby.
Ice, who assisted trainers Morris Nicks, Cole Norman and Keith Desormeaux before striking out on his own last year, has been high on his colt's prospects from the start.
"That colt has a lot of ability, will run long and is still learning," Ice said, according to the Oaklawn Jockey Club Web site. "The nice thing about Summer Bird is that he can run his last quarter in 24 seconds and change. Old-time racing men have claimed for years that a 3-year-old who can finish up like that is a derby horse."
Summer Bird, though, may be more of a Belmont Stakes horse.
He is a son of Birdstone, who won the Grade I Champagne Stakes as a juvenile but then disappointed backers with an eighth-place finish in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. He skipped the Preakness and foiled Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes. Birdstone also won the Travers Stakes later that year.
According to Ice, Summer Bird was prevented from racing as a 2-year-old due to problems with his feet. This, however, hasn't dampened Ice's enthusiasm for the big horse in his stable.
“Summer Bird is the real deal... Distance doesn’t seem to be any problem for him. Once he gets some experience, I’m sure we will hear more from him. I’m excited about his future.”
Others will be even more excited if they back Summer Bird with a $2 bet to win and he crosses the finish line first in the Belmont Stakes. He's almost sure to go off at odds or 10-1, perhaps much higher.
Ice is a bit of a long shot, too.
Ice has yet to win a graded stakes as a trainer, much less a Triple Crown race, while D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito and Todd Pletcher have combined for 19 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes victories.
Summer Bird and Ice: It would make for a doozy of a daily double.