Six fillies line up against Songbird in Alabama

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Jen Caldwell

August 17th, 2016

Champion Songbird once again puts her perfect record on the line when facing six rivals in Saturday’s $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.

This time around, though, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee will be trying something she’s never done before – going 1 1/4 miles. The one thing in her corner is that no one else in the field has gone 10 furlongs either.

Hollendorfer isn’t too worried about the increase in distance, having successfully sent out Blind Luck to traverse the distance when beating Havre de Grace in the 2010 Alabama.

"Their styles of running are completely different, but they both had the God-given talent to be great racehorses," the horseman said. "Songbird could have any style of running that she wants, and I think we're ready to go a mile and a quarter."

Interestingly enough, in that Alabama Blind Luck beat eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, who was campaigned by Songbird’s owner, Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms.

"That's how I learned about (Hollendorfer)," Porter recalled. "I talked to some people and they said, 'He's all about the horses 24/7 and he's awake almost all of those.'

"I don't think we've ever had a horse early on that ever showed us what Songbird's doing. I think at this point of her career, I think she's better by far than anything I've had in the middle of their three-year-old year – by far."

Songbird enters the Alabama having already passed Saratoga’s “Graveyard of Champions” test, taking the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) on July 24 by 5 1/4 lengths with regular rider Mike Smith in the irons. The duo have been together since the beginning, including wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and Santa Anita Oaks (G1), and will attempt to make it 10-for-10 on Saturday.

Two in the Alabama have come up short against Songbird recently. Flora Dora did the better of the pair when third in the CCA Oaks last out. The stakes-winning filly was 9 1/4 lengths behind the champion that day under Manny Esquivel, who returns to the saddle.

"She's been a bit more focused," noted trainer Marialice Coffey, who is adding blinkers to Flora Dora’s equipment for this one. "We're excited about her coming into this race."

Weep No More wasn’t as lucky, finishing last of five in the CCA Oaks, beaten 14 lengths by Songbird. The Rusty Arnold pupil is no stranger to upsets, though, having captured the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland during the spring by a neck at 30-1 odds under race rider Corey Lanerie.

While Songbird is seeking to keep her record perfect, Dark Nile will be trying to keep her four-race win streak going in the Alabama. The Arnaud Delacour charge dropped her initial start going six furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs in January but has been unbeatable since stretching out past sprint distances in her past four races.

The Pioneerof the Nile filly recently took her graded bow in the Delaware Oaks (G3) on July 9 and will have Joe Bravo in the irons while taking on her biggest test to date.

"It's a bit of an audacious spot, but she's come along nicely and I've always thought she would stay a mile and a quarter," Delacour said.

Family Tree carries a pair of consecutive wins into the Alabama for trainer Wayne Catalano, scoring in both the Iowa Oaks (G3) and Indiana Oaks (G2) off only a two-week break. Florent Geroux has the call Saturday.

"I stepped up to the plate and took a chance, everybody is like, 'Sometimes you've got to do it,'" Catalano remarked.

Go Maggie Go boasts wins in both the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) this season, but enters Saturday’s race off a fourth-placing in the Acorn Stakes (G1). She does, however, bring with her trainer Dale Romans, who upset Triple Crown hero American Pharoah at Saratoga in last year’s Travers Stakes (G1) with Keen Ice.

"Obviously it's going to be a salty race," Romans stated. "It's hard to run at the level we should and still stay away from Songbird."

Going for Broke completes the Alabama field and is the only filly in the bunch without any stakes experience. Trained by Chad Brown, the Blame filly dropped her 6 1/2-furlong maiden debut but is now three-for-three at distances going a mile or longer.

"She's a nice filly who has run through her conditions," Brown said. "We thought if we were going to get her to the Alabama we would avoid the Coaching Club, which looked difficult, and take one clean shot at a Grade 1.

"I think the filly will stay a mile and a quarter, but obviously for Songbird to lose something would have to really go wrong. Just to be in the race and have a chance for a piece of it is worth it for us."

Songbird photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography