Songbird was so dominant in the first 13 starts of her career that she won them all by at least 3¾ lengths en route to Eclipse Awards as the champion 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly in 2015-16.
She even ran a great race in losing by a nose to four-time champion Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff that ended her 2016 campaign.
Songbird has won both of her 2017 starts after a lengthy rest, but they came by just 1 length over seemingly overmatched opponents in the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park and the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.
“Some folks say she should be running away from horses, but that’s not a good thing to think in horse racing,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “I was totally pleased with the races. We asked her the question twice already this year and she answered both times.”
Songbird has shipped again from Southern California to run in the $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga in New York as she seeks her 10th Grade 1 victory. Of her four opponents in the 11/8-mile race, only Forever Unbridled is a Grade 1 winner and none of them possesses anything close to Songbird’s early speed.
If her two most recent workouts at Del Mar are any indication, Songbird appears poised to return to her dominant ways. They were the only drills of 434 that were termed “breezing” instead of “handily,” meaning they were effortless.
“It only stands to reason that she would be rounding into better form,” Hollendorfer said. “She’s a champion and that’s why she can ship this way and win.”
She isn’t the only prominent California horse that on a program Saturday at Saratoga that offers six Grade 1 events topped by the $1.25 million Travers Stakes. West Coast and Irap run in the Travers, American Anthem in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes and Drefong in the Forego Stakes.
Songbird, West Coast and American Anthem were among five California horses to win on the Belmont Stakes program June 10 at Belmont Park in New York, and Drefong is the defending Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion.
“East versus West is kind of a rivalry,” Hollendorfer said. “The guys from the West Coast don’t like Mark Casse coming in and stealing their turf race (last Saturday’s Del Mar Oaks), and those East guys don’t want us coming in there beating them. The thing about the racetrack is that even though we are in intense competition, we are a lot more civil than people in the outside world.”
Larry Stumes is a freelance writer.