Coaching Club American Oaks Preview: Songbird invades from California

Profile Picture:

TwinSpires Staff

July 22nd, 2016


On Wednesday night at the annual preview of the Saratoga meeting at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the first question from the audience was about California horses running here, specifically, why more of them do not. The questioner particularly bemoaned that California Chrome has not raced here, and that Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands winner Nyquist may not come east for the Travers later this summer.

As panelist Tom Law was quick to point out, a California horse is indeed coming to race at Saratoga this weekend, and though she didn’t race in the Triple Crown, Law said succinctly:

“There’s not many more major horses than her.” He was talking, of course, about Songbird.

You have to go back to 1991 and Lite Light—who, like Songbird, was trained by Jerry Hollendorfer--to find a West Coast invader who came east and won the Coaching Club American Oaks. The race was held at Belmont then, and run at 10 furlongs, one more than its current distance. Becoming the first California filly to win the race at Saratoga will be a modest bit of history. Maintaining her undefeated record will be a little more significant.

Songbird will face only four other horses on Sunday afternoon, but she’ll face for the first time the formidable Carina Mia. Trained by Bill Mott, she’s won four of six races, her wins coming nearly as easily as Songbird’s have. They’ll break from next to each other, Songbird on the rail, Carina Mia right next door in post 2, which might make for some interesting early dynamics, given the running styles of the two fillies. Carina Mia has won on the lead and off the pace; Songbird has barely let a horse get a head in front at any point in her eight races.

While it’s been more than 20 years since Hollendorfer got his win in this race, the Hall of Fame trainer has on more than one occasion given the lie to Saratoga’s Graveyard of Champions reputation with his fillies. He was last in the winner’s circle for a Saratoga graded stakes in 2013, when Sweet Lulu won the Test as the favorite; his Blind Luck won the 2012 Alabama as the 1.80-1 second choice.

Like both of those fillies, Songbird has done most of her racing in California, venturing east only for last year’s 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. But little seems to perturb this daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, not a trip to Keeneland, nor a fever that scuttled her Longines Kentucky Oaks hopes.

The Coaching Club American Oaks may have drawn only a short field, but it’s offering a showdown between two terrific fillies at a track that has bested the best. Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez—the man who rode Havre de Grace to victory against males in the 2011 Woodward for Fox Hill Farm, Songbird’s owner--admitted at the Wednesday night preview that he doesn’t follow racing closely these days. Then he added, “I do want to see Songbird run.”

He’s not the only one. 

Songbird photo courtesy NYRA/Francesca LeDonne