Penn Derby muddies the picture; Songbird continues to romp

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TwinSpires Staff

September 24th, 2016

Story & photos by Teresa Genaro

With the Pennsylvania Derby a rematch of the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby – a trio that included one horse who won the Preakness and Haskell, and another who finished third in two Grade 1 races this year – one might reasonably have expected the race to play a role in, if not determine, which three-year-old colt would finish 2016 with championship honors.

So much for that.

The Kentucky Derby winner? Sixth.

The Preakness and Haskell winner? Seventh.

There at the end was Gun Runner, third in the Derby and Travers, making a late run at Connect, who broke his maiden on the day that Nyquist won the Derby and who won three straight before finishing sixth by 21 lengths in the Travers.

In a field of 12 horses, Nyquist was an inexplicable odds-on favorite, Exaggerator the 6-1 third choice with Cupid. Connect went off at 10-1, so congrats if you had him.

Trainer Chad Brown, who seems to win everything, didn’t make it down to Bensalem to get in the winner’s circle for the $1.25 million race. He was up at Belmont, saddling the top two finishers in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel.  Connect’s owner, Paul Pompa, wasn’t here, either.

But a race earlier, a different winning team was intact again, after missing one of its most important members in the winner’s circle for the Alabama at Saratoga.

If the Pennsylvania Derby was a study in chaos (or not, if you think that the faltering three-year-olds are what you thought they were), the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion was reassuringly true to form.

Taking on Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia for the first time, Songbird did what she was expected to, which was sit back, then step up when asked by Mike Smith and slip off to a 5 3/4-length victory.

And this time, owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm was in the winner’s circle with her, after missing the Alabama with an illness.

“It doesn’t get any better than to watch her today,” Porter said. “It was just gorgeous. She’s just a special horse. Just to watch her race just gives you chills every time.”

As has been the plan all along, Songbird will face fillies and mares at the Breeders’ Cup, taking aim at the Distaff. Those fans clamoring for her to run against males will have to wait until next year.

“(Trainer) Jerry (Hollendorfer) and I agree that the Distaff is the race to run in. I like to run against boys only if we win,” Porter said. “The time will come next year when we talk about it. I hope if she stays healthy, it looks like she can beat Grade 1 boys.”

Though the performance of the top three-year-old males at Parx might leave little doubt that Songbird could win against them, California Chrome looms in the Classic. While it’s difficult to see any of these Derby runners posing much of a threat to him, it would be a big ask for a three-year-old filly to take on the horse who has been unbeatable in five starts this year.

As big an ask, probably, as it will be to find fillies and mares willing to line up against Songbird at Santa Anita on November 4. A $2 million race pays pretty good for second and third, and that may well be what they’re all running for.