Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird clash in Haskell

Rachel Alexandra might be the most glamorous horse in America today, but anyone who thinks she is a cinch to waltz off with Sunday’s $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth should have a chat with Tim Ice.

Ice trains the Belmont Stakes surprise winner Summer Bird, who has been bedded down at Monmouth in Oceanpark, N.J. for a month and is taking dead aim at the wonder filly.

“We’ve got to outrun Rachel,” Ice said at the barn this week. “But they’re not giving her a check before the race. The Haskell is always a competitive race, and when they put up a million dollars it’s not going to be an easy race for anyone. They don’t give the money away. It has to be earned.”

Summer Bird is coming to run, and if Rachel is to get the prize, she will have to earn it the hard way, by running her eyeballs out.

Summer Bird just might be the one to make her do it, too. He climaxed a mesmerizing Triple Crown campaign this year when he jumped up to win the Belmont at nearly 12-1, leaving Dunkirk and the Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in his dust.

Summer Bird went into the Belmont with just four races under his belt. He never raced as a 2-year-old. He won his second start, a maiden special, then ran third in the Arkansas Derby and sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

So he broke all the time-tested traditional rules to win the mile-and-a-half Belmont, suggesting he is a horse not to be dismissed lightly.

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There is a sentiment that Monmouth, often a speed-biased track, greatly will favor Rachel’s free-wheeling front speed and work against the late-running style of Summer Bird. Ice doesn’t buy it.

“In races like the Haskell, the best horse usually wins, no matter how the track is playing,” he said. “People said that come-from-behind horses never win the Belmont, that it is always won by horses on the front end, but we blew that theory away last month.

“We’ll take the Haskell as it sets up. All we need is a little bit of pace up front and everything will be fine.”

Ice is a newcomer to big league racing. He is just 35 and has been training on his own for little more than a year, but he had Summer Bird tuned tighter than Liberace’s piano for the Belmont.

“When I spoke to the owners [Kalarikkai and Vilasini Jayaraman] about supplementing Summer Bird to the Triple Crown, I told them the one race I wanted to run in was the Belmont, because the longer he runs, the stronger he gets,” Ice said.

He figures to have the chestnut similarly prepared for the 11⁄8-mile Haskell. He took the horse back to Louisiana for a couple of weeks after the Belmont, then vanned him to Monmouth, a 33-hour safari up the highway.

“The weather here has been great and he has handled the track as if he has been training on it forever,” Ice said. “Rachel Alexandra is a very nice horse and Todd Pletcher has a nice horse in Munnings, but I’m confident about our chances in the Haskell. I watch him train seven days a week and I know what I’ve got. He’s a very nice horse.”

Others think so, too. Before the Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Baffert sought to buy Summer Bird, but when a vet found something wrong with a blood vessel, Baffert backed off. Before the Belmont, Mike Iavarone’s IEAH Stable, which raced Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, put in a bid. The offer was put on hold, but when Summer Bird won the Belmont, the horse was taken off the market.

Another who likes him is trainer John Mazza, a Monmouth institution. Summer Bird is in Barn 3, where Mazza has stabled his horses for 42 years.

“Most of the great ones — Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid — have been in my barn,” Mazza said. “None of them have looked better than Summer Bird.”

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