Hollendorfer boasts limited sample of runners off six months rest as Songbird returns from extended break
by Scott Shapiro
Belmont Stakes Day is less than a week away and what a card it should be in Elmont, New York. The Saturday afternoon action includes a plethora of stakes races headlined by the third leg of the Triple Crown.
The card also marks the return of two-time Eclipse Award winner Songbird in the $750,000 Grade I Ogden Phipps.
The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has not been seen in competition since being narrowly defeated by veteran mare Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park last November.
The Fox Hill Farms’ filly will likely go off the prohibitive favorite in the Ogden Phipps based on her 11 for 12 record and over $3.7 million dollars in earnings. However, she will be tested by Bill Mott-conditioned Carina Mia amongst others in the mile and a sixteenth, one-turn event.
Despite her immense talent and class, one must always wonder if a horse will be at their best off a significant layoff.
Given the careful handling and the ship cross country, I expect that trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will have Songbird ready to roll next Saturday, but just in case I decided to look back at the “Dorf’s” career to see if there was reason to believe that his star four-year-old filly could be short in her first start in six months. What I discovered was that the Hall of Fame conditioner has not been one to rest his best horses for extended periods of time.
In terms of recent statistics, Hollendorfer has raced 239 runners off a layoff of 180 plus days over the last five years. He has won with 39 of them (16%.) That includes everything from maidens to claimers over the synthetic surface at Golden Gate to a few stakes-caliber runners.
A deeper dive into just his graded stakes competitors tells us that the Ohio native has just nine starters over the last half decade who have run on a six-month break or greater. Five have finished in the money, but only one has found the winner’s circle. That was sprinter Sahara Sky who won the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at Santa Anita off the shelf at odds of 21-1.
It is hard to take too much from a limited sample like this, but what I found more noteworthy was that, for the most part, Hollendorfer has rarely given his top runners this kind of time off. A look back at a few of his other “big” horses illustrates this point further.
2010 Eclipse Award winner Blind Luck was never on the shelf for significant time. Even after her runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (called the Ladies’ Classic at that time) the daughter of Pollard’s Vision came back 10 weeks later to compete in the Grade 2 El Encino at Santa Anita Park.
2014 champion two-year-old male Shared Belief received a five-month break after capturing the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in December at Los Alamitos, but unlike Songbird, Hollendorfer was able to find an allowance event for him to prep in before returning to Orange County for the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby in July. Other than that, the son of Candy Ride never spent significant time on the sidelines over his 12-race career.
Going back to the 20th century, 1991 Kentucky Oaks winner Lite Light raced 26 times between May 1990 and February 1993, but never had more than 2 1/2 months off between races.
Finally, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victor Dakota Phone performed in 35 races between the winter of 2008 to the winter of 2011, but never saw anything closely resembling the time off that Songbird has had since her near miss last November.
For someone of his stature, Jerry Hollendorfer has not had as many top-tier horses as one might expect and the ones he trained raced regularly. Songbird is arguably the best the veteran conditioner has ever had, but time will tell whether she will perform at the top of her game next Saturday or whether she may need a race to get back to her elite level.
Either way, I cannot wait to see her run again.