ELMONT, N.Y. -- A week before the 141st Belmont Stakes, jockey Kent Desormeaux got acquainted with his mount, guiding Summer Bird through a five-furlong work in 1:01.67 Saturday morning over a Belmont main track labeled fast, but one that still had moisture in it from Friday's rains.
Summer Bird, the sixth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, was one of three Belmont candidates to work on Saturday. The Nick Zito-trained duo of Brave Victory and Miner's Escape went four furlongs in company in 48.55 seconds.
Desormeaux was up on Summer Bird for the first time Saturday and liked what he felt underneath him. Desormeaux went slowly to the pole with Summer Bird before breaking into the move, and the colt got his first eighth in 13.23 seconds. He gradually picked it up through a quarter in 25.38 seconds and three furlongs in 37.56. Desormeaux urged him with his hands at the sixteenth pole as Summer Bird completed his final quarter in 24.11 seconds. Summer Bird galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.28 and pulled up seven-eighths in 1:29.36, according to Daily Racing Form.
"I thought he handled the track fantastically, it was an energetic work," Desormeaux said. "I was thrilled to have him come off the track with more energy than he went out there with. He's fit and ready, and he's a healthy and happy horse."
Visually, the move appeared to be significantly better than Summer Bird's seven furlong move in 1:27.40 last Saturday. Since that work, trainer Tim Ice has equipped Summer Bird with hind shoes that have toe grabs, similar to a cleat designed to have the horse handle the surface better.
"A hundred-percent better," Ice said when comparing Saturday's work to that of Summer Bird's previous move. "He looked a lot better coming down the lane, getting a hold of the track. [He] finished the last quarter a lot stronger, just galloped out very strong; overall he looks super. I though it was a good work."
Summer Bird worked in blinkers, equipment he has been training in most every day since the Kentucky Derby. He will wear blinkers for the first time in the Belmont.
Shortly after Summer Bird finished his move, Brave Victory and Miner's Escape got their breezes in. Last week, Miner's Escape worked on the inside of Brave Victory. Saturday, Miner's Escape was on the outside and appeared to work better. Under Eddie Cruz, Miner's Escape left the half-mile pole, about a half-length behind Brave Victory, under Rajiv Maragh, but quickly drew on even terms after a first eighth in 12.22 seconds. The two went the quarter in 24.22 seconds, and finished the work in 24.33 seconds while galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.55.
"I don't think you can plan on anything so dramatic or try to do something so differently to make yourself feel like you're going to win the Belmont Stakes," said Zito, who won last year's Belmont Stakes with 36-1 shot Da' Tara. "It's the horses that win the Belmont Stakes. I'm just there to hang out with them."
Preferring to work their horses over a drier surface, trainers Todd Pletcher (Dunkirk) and Kiaran McLaughlin (Charitable Man) pushed back their horses' final works until Sunday morning.