The Song Goes On

Songbird, with Mike Smith aboard, entering the winner's circle following her victory in the Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita on June 18. (Cynthia Holt photo)

In Greek mythology, Icarus was gifted with a pair of wax wings by his craftsman father, Daedalus, in order to escape the island of Crete. Warned not to fly too high, Icarus, mesmerized by the freedom of flight, ignored his father’s words and soared into the sun, melting his wings and sending him spiraling into the sea. On Saturday, a scorching sun did not singe the feathers of a blithe spirit named Songbird, who returned to the races in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks following a brief illness suffered after her victory in the rain-drenched Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on April 9.

The temperature hovered above 90 degrees at post time, but Songbird was not unglued by the uncharacteristically sullen weather, breaking alertly from the gate and allowing Bellamentary to lead the way in the 1 1/16-mile race. With the instincts of a chess master, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer had anticipated the possibility of this development occurring sooner or later, and had worked Songbird in company (with another horse) in preparation. His hunch proved to be spot-on. This was the first time in Songbird’s seven starts that she had been headed going into the first turn, but she remained unruffled. She tracked Bellamentary like a hawk, circling her prey at mid-point on the backstretch, and, spreading her wings, took off.

The remainder of the race was all about Songbird and her power of flight, which has motivated turf writers to wax poetic when witnessing her prowess. Horsemen marvel at her high cruising speed, and her ability to take on all comers under all conditions with astonishing ease. When the dust settled, Songbird had beaten the other contenders by 6 ½ lengths, had notched win number eight on her unblemished record, gone over the $2 million earnings mark, and — perhaps best of all — had lighted the candles on Hollendorfer’s 70th birthday cake.

The new septuagenarian remarked after the race, “We’re very grateful to have a filly that can do the things that she does, so we’ll take it one race at a time. Now she’s got eight, and we’ll try to go for number nine.”  Hollendorfer confirmed that Songbird will be winging her way east. The Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 24 or the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park on July 9 are mentioned by Fox HIll Farm as distinct possibilities for her next start, with an ultimate goal of the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita this fall. 

At the press briefing following the race, jockey Mike Smith shook his head in wonder at Songbird’s freakish ability, saying, “She has wings on her hooves, I swear. She just goes into stealth mode.”

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