Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – There comes a point in the career of every great horse that a huge question must be answered. What happens when that horse is eyeballed by a classy and determined foe?
Songbird faced that test for the first time in her career in the 100th running of the Coaching Club American Oaks on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course. She answered like the undefeated champion she is.
When razor-sharp Carina Mia, a winner of four of six previous starts, ranged up to confront Songbird nearing the quarter pole, threatening to sweep past, the filly responded the way all of the great ones do. She found another gear and roared off to a 5 1/4-length triumph.
“I asked her more than I ever had to,” said triumphant jockey Mike Smith, grateful that Songbird switched leads when needed and responded so swiftly. Her nine victories have now come by a combined 47 ¾ lengths.
Smith said of the enormous threat presented by Carina Mia, who patiently tracked front-running Songbird in second position through much of the mile-and-an-eighth contest for jockey Julien Leparoux, “The more he got on top of her, the more it made her aggressive.”
Leparoux knew he and his filly had given it their best. Everything had gone according to plan. It simply was not enough, not nearly enough.
“At one point I thought I got her right around the turn,” Leparoux said. “But she switched leads and went on again.”
Bill Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer who had Carina Mia fine-tuned for the big day, was filled with admiration for Songbird. “She’s one of the best we’ve seen in a long time,” he said, “and she proved it today.”
Songbird will look to make it a perfect 10 when she competes in her next scheduled start, the Alabama on Aug. 20, also at iconic Saratoga. The Coaching Club American Oaks, with a purse raised from $300,000 to $500,000 to help convince owner Rick Porter to send her here, marked the fifth Grade 1 victory for the 2-year-old champion. Of her nine wins, eight have come in graded stakes.
The dark bay daughter of Medaglia d’Oro competed outside of Southern California for only the second time in her career and made her first cross-country trek. In her only previous contest away from Santa Anita or Del Mar, she dominated the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by 5 ¾ lengths last Oct. 31 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., for Smith, the only rider she has ever known.
The travel and the steamy weather at Saratoga presented challenges Songbird also had not encountered before. Smith noted that she got hot on the way to the starting gate, an unwelcome first for her. But the filly that appears as though she can cope with anything handled that as well.
“This is a tough place to just step into town, especially coming from the West Coast,” Smith said. “The humidity factor is what it is. The air is so much thicker here. It gets to me as a rider, so I can’t imagine a horse.”
Songbird coasted the last few strides and completed the distance in 1:49.56. And she answered the inevitable question. Emphatically.
For an Equibase chart of the race, click here.