Songbird turns Santa Ysabel into cakewalk

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 6th, 2016

Perhaps somewhere, in an obscure dimension of alternate reality, or an unknowable corner of the multiverse, there was an upset in the $101,380 Santa Ysabel (G3). But not in our universe.

Logic, form, and class reigned supreme as undefeated champion Songbird enjoyed another tour of the Santa Anita oval on Saturday. The 1-20 favorite against a gaggle of rivals who needed chaos to break out to have a chance, the Fox Hill Farms colorbearer hacked up to remain perfect from six starts.

The April 9 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) looks a mere formality now, and we’ll have to wait for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) to see if a real challenger to her supremacy arises. East Coast-based Cathryn Sophia has emerged of late, but has yet to stretch out to two turns, and Dubai sensation Polar River looked vulnerable in the final yards of the UAE Oaks (G3).

In the meantime, let’s just enjoy the spectacle. And the Santa Ysabel was just that, with a pitch-perfect soundtrack courtesy of track announcer Michael Wrona.

Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird flew from the gate to take charge in the opening strides – the sum total of suspense. Her Hall of Fame rider, Mike Smith, was perched high in the saddle, as though steering his partner through a routine breeze.

A steering job is all it was, for Songbird was on cruise control through fractions of :23.20, :46.02, and 1:09.98. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro began to get away from her toiling rivals entering the far turn, and Smith remained motionless as she widened her advantage to eight lengths in midstretch.

If there’s a critique, it’s the fact that Songbird nearly doubled her margin through a slow quarter in :26.11, resulting in a mile split in 1:36.09. She sauntered home, gearing down, to complete 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.02. To be sure, she gave every impression of being unextended. But it’s only fair to point out that she wasn’t facing a rival capable of making much of a dent as the race slowed.

The 13-1 second choice, Land Over Sea, reduced the margin to 3 3/4 lengths, the “closest” she has come in four prior losses to Songbird. A six-length third in the Del Mar Debutante (G1), the Doug O’Neill filly was beaten 4 1/2 lengths when runner-up in the Chandelier (G1) and 6 1/2 lengths when again best of the rest in their mutual reappearance in the February 6 Las Virgenes (G2). Land Over Sea’s only poor effort came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland, where she was a remote seventh behind Songbird.

The rest of the Santa Ysabel field was strung out. The 42-1 Mokat got up for third, and Jade Princess held fourth, faring best of those who chased Songbird early.

Songbird added 50 more points toward the Oaks, increasing her stranglehold on the leaderboard with a total of 90. Land Over Sea now has 28 after her 20-point haul here, and Mokat (10) and Jade Princess (5) both opened their accounts.

Songbird’s bankroll stands at $1,742,000. For more on her background, see Songbird's Eclipse Award profile.


Quotes from Santa Anita

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith: “It was incredible. I got a bit star struck when I looked over at the big screen to see if I needed to do a little bit of work and I was just in awe of how easily she was doing things, again. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off the big screen. I told myself, ‘I better get back to it and stay on.’ She was really on her game.

“Jerry has done such a tremendous job. Jerry (Hollendorfer), Dan (Ward Jr.) and the whole crew have done such a good job of keeping this great filly really happy. I think she’s happy and getting happier every time I get on her. I’m just blessed that I get to keep the weight on her back. I hope I continue to stay on.

“I think she got a whole lot more out of today then we would have in the a.m. She got to go a half mile in forty six. She had to do some work today but she’s really, really good. You can’t just go around there and not do any work because eventually someone is going to make you run at some point, and you have to be ready.

“I could have let someone go to the lead today, but I didn’t because it was there and it was that easy for her. But if someone was that content on it, they’ll have to definitely run to be able to do it. She’ll let them do it, but they’ll have to throw some numbers up there but I don’t think it’d be a problem.

“She reminds me a lot of Beholder in her three-year-old year, turning four. When she was three, she was very aggressive, on the lead all the time. But she started to get smarter with age and Songbird seems to be doing the same thing.”

Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer: “We just keep doing our job and hope she keeps doing her job and we might end up in some good places with her. We’ve already been to good places with her but we could get to more.

“Not really (when asked if there is pressure in that she’s so popular and such a prohibitive betting favorite). There’s more pressure not having one like this. I’m very grateful to have this filly. I’m very grateful for (owner) Rick Porter and all the people who work with him.

“The Santa Anita Oaks would be next and if she looks real good, we’ll try to think about Kentucky (the Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6). I don’t like to think too far ahead but that’s our long-term goal. The intermediate (races) are what we’ve been doing.

“I don’t do that (compare her to other great fillies he has trained). I don’t think it’s fair to her or any of the other great ones that I’ve had. They all had their own styles and individual personalities, so I accept her for what she is. She’s pretty special to me.”

Do people who ask why she’s not going to run against males bother him? “No. That’s what they do on TV and the politicians. If you’re going to run in the big races you’ve got to expect people to look for things that might be vulnerable.

“I don’t take anything for granted. I’m very grateful to win a race like this. I didn’t want to work her into the (Santa Anita) Oaks. I wanted to have a prep and we got the prep today.”

Owner Rick Porter: “It’s such a fantastic feeling when you get a horse like this. I’ve had some good ones, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had one this good.

“Today was mostly about keeping her tuned. There’s two months between the Santa Anita Oaks and the Las Virgenes. Jerry and I talked and we felt that instead of working her to death, we would pick this race, even though a Grade 3 wasn’t the best thing but it turned out fine and she got plenty out of this race.

“They tried to challenge her. They went the first quarter in twenty-three and I thought, ‘this is fantastic!’ Then, when I saw forty-six . . . it doesn’t seem to bother her. Mike just has a way with her. He knows how to ride her just perfect.

“I’ll be at Santa Anita for the Oaks. The good Lord willing, I’ll be there! Santa Anita is a good spot. I look forward to coming out there in April.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit.