While it was not the best of days for 48,894 fans who first battled heat and humidity and then a late afternoon thunderstorm, it was a flawless day for Birdstone and his connections, including jockey Edgar Prado who notched the Saratoga rarity of riding five winners in one afternoon.
Storm clouds gathered and rain fell 20 minutes before the 6:22 p.m. post time, and lights and lightening provided flashed against the blackened sky. As expected, Haskell Invitational winner and crowd favorite Lion Heart took the lead under jockey Joe Bravo, pursued by Jim Dandy winner Purge through early fractions of :24 2/5 and :49. The soft pace seemed to favor the front-runners, but Prado put a fresh Birdstone into the race and then the son of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone pulled his rider to the lead with a steady move on the backstretch. Clear at the quarter-pole, he seemed to grow stronger as he hit the wire in 2:02 2/5 for the fifth win of his eight-race career.
"I was hoping the lights at the wire wouldn't spook him," Prado said. "That was the only thing I was thinking in the back of my head. My horse just kept going. I'm very happy for Nick (Zito.) There was thunder in the sky and thunder in my horse."
The rain held off until after the race. Then, the storm came with such fury that New York Racing Association officials cancelled the day's 12th and final race.
For trainer Nick Zito, the Birdstone story keeps getting better. Birdstone had halted Zito's 0-for-11 streak in the Belmont Stakes by denying Smarty Jones racing's 12th Triple Crown champion. And he stopped his 11-race skid in the Travers. Most of all, he made Zito look like a genius, for the trainer opted not to race after the Belmont Stakes, but to train Birdstone right into the Travers. "When we brought him back to Saratoga after the Belmont, I noticed a change in him and I told John and Marylou, `Let's forget about a prep race. Let's just go for the big one,'" Zito said "I had a feeling he would fire. He's got such a big heart, if he's going to fire, let him fire on the right day at the right time. And that's what he did."