Two-time Eclipse Award champion Songbird has been retired from racing after she was recently diagnosed with damage to her hind suspensories and a severe bone chip, owner Rick Porter announced Aug. 31.
Porter sent the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for a full evaluation and testing following her runner-up finish to Forever Unbridled in the Aug. 26 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. During her examination by Dr. Larry Bramlage, Porter said it was immediately apparent the 4-year-old filly was off behind. According to Bramlage's report posted on Porter's Fox Hill Farm Facebook page, subsequent scans revealed "front distal cannon bone problems" with the shape and size of the loose chip presenting a possible catastrophic situation if she continued to race.
Credit Songbird's brilliance for helping spare her from a potential on-track crisis. Though she had captured the June 10 Ogden Phipps Stakes in her seasonal bow and followed that with a one-length win in the July 15 Delaware Handicap, she wasn't winning in the convincing fashion of her previous 11 triumphs. Porter's gut was telling him something was amiss, a feeling that was backed up when Songbird was caught in late stretch by Forever Unbridled and suffered just her second defeat from 15 career starts.
Porter's dismay over the sudden end of Songbird's on-track career is juxtaposed by the enormity of gratitude for what the filly has provided himself, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, and her Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith the past two and a half years.
She showed her rivals a blueprint of what was to come from the start when she broke her maiden by 6 1/2 lengths in front-running style July 26, 2015 at Del Mar. There would be no toying around from then on as she jumped into Grade 1 company next time out, winning the Del Mar Debutante Stakes that year for her first of what would be nine career top-level victories.
Her 5 3/4-length victory in that year's 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies cemented Songbird’s first divisional honor and made her the winter-book favorite to win the 2016 Longines Kentucky Oaks. A fever ended up keeping her from that test but she nonetheless proved the dominant sophomore runner— arguably of either sex—last season with triumphs in the Santa Anita Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Cotillion Stakes.
"She was everything you'd want in a racehorse, everything," said Smith, who piloted the filly in each of her starts. "The balance, the speed, the stamina, the class, the heart, the try: She was just everything. She was a wonderful chapter for me and ... we were just so blessed to have her for all the wonderful moments. They're indescribable and now she'll go on to start a new chapter in her life."
The sublime nature of Songbird's triumphs were serving another, more crucial purpose. Porter had been battling cancer during that time was hospitalized just days before his dark bay filly's triumph in the Alabama. He recently announced he was in full remission after undergoing an experimental treatment, but the joy Songbird dutifully provided was a tonic he never once downplayed.
"She really has meant so much to me, not just me but my whole family and the whole racing world," Porter said. "She's the most popular horse that has been around in years. She's got so many fans and I just feel so bad for them all now."
Even when she tasted defeat for the first time, Songbird's stature was not the least bit tarnished. In one of the most memorable editions of a race that has produced some all-time results, the 3-year-old Songbird went eyeball-to-eyeball with 6-year-old champion Beholder the length of the Santa Anita Park stretch before coming up a nose short of the future Hall of Famer in the 2016 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff last Nov. 4.
Her body of work in 2016 was still enough to make Songbird a finalist for Horse of the Year honors. And when the hardware for champion 3-year-old filly was brought on stage during the Eclipse Award ceremony, there was no question it would be Porter's hands clutching the honors.
Bred in Kentucky by John Antonelli, Songbird retires with 13 wins from 15 starts and $4,692,000 in earnings. She was purchased by Fox Hill Farm for $400,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale and Porter said Thursday the filly would be offered at this year's Fasig-Tipton November sale on Nov. 6.
"It sad but it's a good thing because she retires a happy mare," Smith said. "I'd love to have her but I don't think I have that amount in my account. But I'd certainly give all I had for her."