Songbird flies to Alabama victory
Photos & story by Teresa Genaro
On a perfect Saturday afternoon at Saratoga, Songbird kept her perfect record intact, thrilling an announced crowd of 40,000 with a seven-length romp in the Grade I, $600,000 Alabama Stakes.
The last time Songbird ran here, in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24, she ran late on a Sunday afternoon, before a grandstand and clubhouse largely depleted of fans. Not so tonight: even though the Alabama went off at 6:21, the crowd stuck around, cheering her as she walked to the track from the paddock, saluting her in the post parade, and celebrating her with a wave of sound that followed her down the stretch as she shrugged off Go Maggie Go to get her 10th win, her sixth in a Grade I.
Following the race, jockey Mike Smith walked the superstar filly down the length of the grandstand, giving fans a photo opportunity with every step, slowly making his way back to the winner’s circle, where the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was draped in a blanket of red and white carnations, matching owner Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm’s silks.
The win was Smith’s fifth in the Alabama, and second aboard a Porter filly, the first coming in 2000 with Jostle. Porter wasn’t at Saratoga; ill health kept him from watching in person the filly he purchased for $400,000 in Saratoga two years ago.
Challenged early on by Go Maggie Go, Songbird didn’t mind occasionally ceding a short lead to that filly, but last year’s 2-year-old champion never let her get too far in front, moving effortlessly to overtake her coming into the stretch when, as she did in the CCA Oaks, she opened up at will.
Smith was an able and emotional stand-in as spokesperson for the absent Porter, talking at length after the race, admitting to a few moments of uncertainty as he neared the wire.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s going on behind me, and once I put them away and headed for home, I kind of glanced at the TV and I couldn’t really see it because of the sun,” he said. “I thought, ‘Man, Weep No More might come down the middle of the racetrack.’ You just always worry about things like that. So I said ‘Come on, come on…’ I was coaxing her a little with the whip, ‘Stay the same, stay the same, you don’t have to go any faster.’
“They can come at her early, they can come at her late, and so far, she has shown she can put them all away.”
“I really wanted to win this one for Mr. Porter,” he added. “I pray he got to watch this and lift his spirits.”
More than one person after the race admitted to goosebumps, and East Coast racing fans will get another chance to see the sensational Songbird next month. Porter’s bloodstock advisor Tom McGreevy, who picked out the filly with Porter two years ago, said she’ll go back to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s California base within the next few weeks, returning in September for the Grade I, $1 million Cotillion at Parx on September 24th.
“We’re happy that people like Songbird,” said Hollendorfer, “and hopefully they like her as much as we do. It’s very gratifying to have a horse like this and see what she can do.”