Songbird belongs in the Kentucky Derby

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Jen Caldwell

November 15th, 2015

This entire blog has been summed up in the headline: Songbird belongs in the Kentucky Derby.


However, the reasons behind this assertion can be many and varied, especially in the wake of comments that it would add no residual worth to her value.

There are some things that just can’t be measured in monetary terms and this is one of them.

We’ve seen exactly what happens when those outside racing get excited about a particular horse and Songbird has the panache to be just such an animal. Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, American Pharoah, even Mine That Bird, stand testament to the power these charismatic animals hold over the public.

Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra’s followers are still clamoring for a match race, but not between the two retired mares. No, they’re hoping for the challenge to take place between their offspring. Long after their racing careers came to a close, Twitter, FaceBook and other social media outlets light up when news comes out about them. I expect American Pharoah’s fans will keep the conversation alive, as well, as he embarks on his new career at stud.

Even Mine That Bird has his followers long after he upset the 2009 Kentucky Derby at 50-1. Unlike his counterparts, the bay gelding didn’t end his career on a high note but was popular enough to have a movie made about his implausible Derby win and a graphic novel penned about his life. According to his FaceBook page, people still ask about visiting the small Canadian champion at his home in New Mexico on co-owner Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch.

That’s what a talented (or not so talented, depends on how you look at it) horse does. They inspire not only die-hard racing fans but spark the imagination of those outside the industry and draw them in to become racing fans.

For those who still insist on looking at this in terms of monetary value, the argument still stands that Songbird belongs in the Kentucky Derby. Her value would not be impacted one way or the other by running in the Run for the Roses.

Simply put, she’s a filly, meaning the chance of a major stud deal is null and void.

Let’s go back to American Pharoah for a moment. As popular as he is among the racing and non-racing folk, the fact remains he is far too valuable as a stallion prospect to continue racing. His value can only decrease, especially if it turned out he had been unable to carry his sophomore form into a four-year-old campaign. Retiring him at the peak of his career was the only logical thing to do in terms of investment.

Now, by comparison, take Beholder. Already a five-year-old, that mare has displayed just as much talent as American Pharoah and the buzz generated about their aborted meeting in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was significant both inside and outside the industry.

Beholder is already gearing up for her six-year-old campaign while American Pharoah heads off to stud. Her value won’t increase or decrease due to this decision because, unlike her studly counterpart, she can only produce one foal a year. American Pharoah’s progeny will number at least 100 in his first crop alone.

Colts can produce more progeny and therefore are worth more than fillies. That also means it’s much easier to take a chance with a filly without her value being impacted. Even winning a race like the Kentucky Derby wouldn’t increase a filly’s value that much because, once again, her breeding potential still remains at one foal produced a year.

Songbird belongs in the Kentucky Derby not just due to her talent but because of the impact such a run would have on racing. Ladies Day would gain new meaning if the dark bay miss challenges the boys next spring under the famed Twin Spires.

Sometimes it’s not about value. Sometimes the opportunity to entrance and enthrall is all that’s needed to take a chance.

Songbird can offer that on the first Saturday in May.

Songbird photos courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography