ELMONT, N.Y. — It began with a New Mexico-based gelding shocking the world, featured a one-for-the-ages filly in between, and ended with a trainer who has been on his own barely a year celebrating his first classic victory.
For a season devoid of a historic sweep, even the Triple Crown participants were struck by the number of improbable story lines that emerged.
When Summer Bird blew past Dunkirk and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, he became the latest in a series of unlikely stars to come out of an intriguing five weeks during which Rachel Alexandra become the first filly in 85 years to capture the Preakness.
Though experience is still a valuable commodity when it comes to the Triple Crown, this year proved that the right horse can make up any learning curve.
Tim Ice, trainer of Summer Bird, opened his own stable in 2008 and had saddled just 17 winners before snagging the Belmont.
"Sure you're going to run against the best trainers, but the best horse wins the race and yesterday my colt was the best horse," Ice said Sunday morning. "That's why everyone who is in this business is in it. They want the chance to win a race like this."
Less than 24 hours after his Belmont win, Ice was still trying to digest the fact that Summer Bird was a classic winner four months after the colt's first start.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, Summer Bird finished fourth in his career debut at Oaklawn Park on March 1 but came back 18 days later to break his maiden by 21/4 lengths over fellow Belmont contender Luv Gov.
"He has just been a class act since the day he got off the van," Ice said. "The first day I saw him work, you could see something. After you've seen enough cheaper horses, and then you see a horse like that, you could tell a difference."
Winning jockey Kent Desormeaux credited the rising trainer for his decision to bring Summer Bird to New York three weeks early and get him acclimated to the deep surface.
"It is a very, very different lay of the land here at Belmont," Desormeaux said after winning his first Belmont in seven tries. "The track is different. The sand is different. Tim did it right, and that's why his phone will ring."
Ice said Summer Bird would van back to his base at Louisiana Downs this week. He will probably prepare for starts in the Jim Dandy (Aug. 1) and Travers Stakes (Aug. 29)at Saratoga.
Mine That Bird trainer Chip Woolley spent Sunday morning reflecting on the gelding's too eager move around the final turn, which might have caused him to flatten out and finish third.
Woolley said Mine That Bird was more keyed up than normal before the Belmont, a factor he said could be due to the Triple Crown journey finally taking its toll.
"Some of it may be the rigors of three races back to back, and you know it's kind of starting to maybe get him a hair upset," Woolley said. "But you think a lot about the fact he was the only one of the 3-year-olds this year who made it through all three races and was right there for all three."
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said fourth-place finisher Charitable Man came out of the race "with a couple of nicks" but was otherwise in good order Sunday. The dark bay colt is slated to point to the Travers with preps coming in either the Jim Dandy or Haskell Invitational.
Belmont runner-up Dunkirk will also be pointed to the Travers, trainer Todd Pletcher said.
"You fight off the Derby winner and the Peter Pan winner (Charitable Man) and most of the time you win the Belmont," Pletcher said. "But the other horse ran a big race."
While Pletcher is a Triple Crown veteran, he said the success of the newcomers showcases the depth of 3-year-old talent.
"It shows there are a lot of competent trainers all across the country that when given the opportunity with a good horse can get the job done," he said.