SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The lady is a perfect 10.
Songbird withstood taxing early pressure and poured it on late to win the 136th Alabama Stakes by a whopping seven lengths before 40,329 spectators on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course. She has dominated her 10 career starts by an eye-popping 54 ¾ combined lengths.
Saratoga is infamous as the “Graveyard of Champions.” This is where Man o’ War suffered his only defeat in 21 starts, falling to aptly named Upset in the 1919 Stanford Stakes. This is where Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox was stunned by 100-1 Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers.
This is where the mighty Secretariat was toppled by Onion in the Whitney Handicap in 1973. And this is where newly crowned Triple Crown champion American Pharoah was tripped up by Keen Ice, a winner of one of 10 career starts, in the Travers only last year.
There seem to be ghosts everywhere here. They have not gotten to Songbird. Nothing does.
“I’m so glad they brought her East,” exulted winning jockey Mike Smith. “Maybe she’ll be America’s horse instead of just the West Coast.”
The dark bay daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has won her last two starts at this so-called “Graveyard of Champions,” fending off a stern challenge from Carina Mia around the final turn in the 1 1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks before she found another gear and dusted that foe four weeks ago.
In the Alabama, her first test at a 1 1/4 miles, Black-Eyed SusanStakes winner Go Maggie Go lived up to her name. Luis Saez sent her early while Smith kept a patient hold on his filly, knowing they were traveling rapidly right behind her and hoping it would not be too fast.
Go Maggie Go took the field of seven through a crisp opening quarter-mile of 23.76 seconds. She blazed a half-mile in :47.77 and clocked three-quarters in 1:11.13. Smith never thought of taking her back.
“She was going too free and easy,” he said. “I’ve never grabbed her, and I didn’t want to do something out of the ordinary.”
The pace was asking far too much of Go Maggie Go. She weakened badly to sixth while Songbird took command on the final turn. She opened 3 1/2 lengths on weakening Go Maggie Go through a mile and continued to widen. Going for Broke closed for second, besting Family Tree by 1 ¾ lengths.
“I never like to say it’s easy, but she’s just got a lot of talent,” said West Coast-based trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “She makes it look easy, but it’s not easy.”
Hollendorfer admitted to some trepidation as Songbird entered the starting gate.
“First time going a mile and a quarter,” he said. “You always think you can do it, but you never know until you actually do it.”
Songbird is accustomed to being on the lead. When Go Maggie Go all but made that impossible, she and Smith adjusted ... the way the great ones do.
“She’s got the ‘it’ factor,” Smith said. “Not only can she run, she is extremely intelligent, her mechanics are incredible and her balance is impeccable. You feel like you are lying on a big king-sized bed. That’s how smooth she is.”
Songbird will be pointed toward the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes on Sept. 24 at Parx Racing, near Philadelphia. Owner Rick Porter is from Pennsylvania. The only damper following Songbird’s brilliant performance involved her owner, who was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.
“He has a little problem. He has the best of doctors,” Hollendorfer said. “I’m sure they’ll get it fixed.”