Songbird, making an auspicious debut as a 4-year-old, surged from the starting gate to take her customary position at the front of the pack. There appeared to be a moment of concern when Paid Up Subscriber rallied to her inside to take a narrow lead as they turned for home in the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile contest.
Smith was never concerned.
“I was glad. It kept me running,” he said. “I was very confident I was going to get her. If anyone was going to get me, it was going to be someone on the outside. I took a big peek at the teletron and there was no horse coming up, so I just hand rode her home.
“If I needed to get after her, I was going to. But I didn’t need to.”
The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, displaying more muscle than before, went to the starting gate for the first time since she absorbed the lone defeat of her career, missing by a nose against future Hall of Famer Beholder in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff last Nov. 4 at Santa Anita Park. She had spun off victories in her first 11 races before that.
Songbird has already done enough to raise questions about her place in history.
“She’d have to be up there on anybody’s list,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, her Hall of Fame trainer.
Smith felt so sure of Songbird that he did not worry about giving her a ground-saving trip.
“I stayed off the fence because it was her first race back and I thought if somebody wanted to get brave on her and make a move, I would rather they make it to my inside so I could wait other than them maybe making me keep my position,” Smith said. “That part worked out, and after that I hand rode her home.”
Songbird has shown before the willingness to find another gear when challenged. Even coming off an extended layoff, she shook off the rust and did what was necessary to dispatch Paid Up Subscriber and jockey Javier Castellano. It was almost as if she knew exactly what to do once she was collared.
“She’s so much smarter,” Smith said. “She’s probably one of the most intelligent horses you’ll ever get on, I swear to you. You can ride her with your fingers.”
Hollendorfer viewed the Ogden Phipps as a race to build on.
“Let’s call it a great race off the layoff,” he said, “but I’m not saying she’s at the top of her game right now. But she certainly did very well.”
Smith noted that fatigue became a factor in deep stretch. “She was getting a little tired late,” he said, “but she’s supposed to.”
According to Hollendorfer, who is based on the West Coast, he continues to discuss the upcoming schedule with owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm. The Delaware Handicap, on July 15 at Delaware Park, is among the possibilities. The trainer also said an appearance during the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course is in the discussion. He also noted that the ultimate goal, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, will be held at Del Mar near San Diego. The Phipps was a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series "Win and You're In" race for the Distaff, guaranteeing Songbird a spot in the race.
“We have the Breeders’ Cup on the West Coast this year,” he said, “so that has to get some kind of consideration.”
Whatever is decided, the racing world will eagerly await Songbird’s next start.