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 23/4-length victory, with Dunkirk second and Canada’s two-year-old champion of 2008 Mine That Bird a neck back in third in the field of 10.
The upset ended Borel’s bid to become the first jockey to win Triple Crown aboard different horses, 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.
The winning time for the 11/2 miles was 2:27.54.
The Triple Crown season ended the way it started — with an upset. Mine That Bird, co-bred by Toronto’s Peter Lamantia, was all but discounted in the Derby, but won at 50-1 odds — and his 63/4-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 favourite, 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.