Seven months after suffering her first defeat by a short nose to the great mare Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), two-time champion Songbird returned to the races brilliantly, cruising to a deceivingly easy one-length victory in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (GI).
After her heartbreaking loss at the Breeders’ Cup, Songbird was sent to WinStar Farm for some R&R before returning to the barn of her Hall-of-Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer near the end of January. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was on schedule to make her seasonal bow in either the Santa Margarita Stakes (GI) or the Apple Blossom Handicap (GI), but had her training delayed in mid-March after kicking a wall in her stall and coming up with some filling in the leg. The delay was short-lived, however, as Songbird settled right back into her usual rhythm and prepared for her return.
With his star student healthy and ready to run, Hollendorfer had a choice to make: stay home and run against a mare like Stellar Wind for $400,000 in the Beholder Mile (GI) or ship to New York and run in what would likely be an easier field for $750,000 in the Ogden Phipps. Hollendorfer chose to ship to the Big Apple.
The decision proved fruitful, as Songbird coasted home to her 12th win in 13 career starts and was welcomed back to the winners’ circle with a loud cheer from the Belmont Park crowd. Songbird broke on top and went straight to the lead, rattling of fractions of :23.99, :47.27 and 1:11.25 for the first six-furlongs.
Entering the far turn, jockey Mike Smith gave Songbird a breather and let eventual runner-up Paid Up Subscriber get right up next to her and look her in the eye. If anyone was holding their breath, it didn’t last long as Songbird inched her way back in front under a hand ride and asserted her class with another easy win.
Paid Up Subscriber was 2 ½ lengths clear of Highway Star in third, while Carina Mia, Verve’s Tale, Factory of Faith, and Bar of Gold completed the order finish. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile race was 1:42.24.
Songbird is owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms. Porter was not in attendance for the race, as he is undergoing an experimental cancer treatment in Boston, but he assured those in attendance that he would find a place near there to watch the race.
After the race, Smith couldn’t stop singing the praises of the champion filly.
“She jumped really, really well out of the gate. I stayed off the rail with her today so that if someone got brave and made an early move on her, I could just sit and wait with it being her first race back. It all worked out and I just hand rode her home” Smith said.
Smith believes Songbird has matured both physically and mentally into this season. “She is so much smarter this year, one of the most intelligent horses you’ll ever sit on.”
Hollendorfer was also pleased with the race Songbird ran, calling it “a great race off the long layoff.”
“She’s not at the top of her game right now, but she did really well today,” he added. “Mike is in a groove, and he gave her a great ride.”
Often an odds-on favorite everywhere she goes, Hollendorfer was not shy about sharing the confidence that Songbird gives both rider and trainer. “Mike’s really helped those Baffert horses today, but with Songbird I think he knew exactly what he had underneath him. We’re running in these races to win, and we don’t care what the odds are.”