It is a credit to trainer Larry Jones that he can ponder what might have been for his barn and laugh about it now.
When Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms was evaluating which 2-year-old runners to send to certain trainers last season, they initially had a lovely daughter of Medaglia d'Oro by the name of Songbird tabbed to end up in Jones' care. Instead, Jones ended up getting a daughter of Tapit who was actually the most highly-rated of the Fox Hill juveniles at the time.
"They actually had this one picked above Songbird," Jones said of stakes winner Southern Girl. "I think they didn't get it right."
Hindsight reveals there may not be another female dirt runner currently on the same level as the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained unbeaten champion Songbird. Still, Jones has been anything but disappointed in the results he has gotten from Southern Girl as she heads into the Oct. 22 Lexus Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland.
A half sister to 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Mucho Macho Man , Southern Girl has followed in her sibling's path in the sense that it has taken time for her to grow into her large frame. The gray 3-year-old filly made just two starts in 2015—breaking her maiden first time out at Delaware Park in September of 2015—and was put on the shelf for about nine months before returning to win an allowance race going six furlongs at Laurel Park July 24.
Her only defeat in five starts came when she finished third in an allowance race at Keeneland last Oct. 21. In her first try against stakes company, Southern Girl signaled her maturity when she bested a field of older fillies in the Shine Again Stakes at Laurel Sept. 10.
"The issues we were having (last year) were mostly growing issues, so we gave her time," Jones said. "And she showed us she's going to be a bit of racehorse, so she's worth waiting on. We won a seven-furlong race at Laurel against older fillies. in which she showed me she had a lot of integrity. She was the only 3-year-old in the race and they were all crowded around her, but they didn't intimidate her."
With her pedigree and build, Jones believes Southern Girl will be best suited to handling a route of ground rather than sprint distances. Still, the seven-furlong, $250,000 Raven Run has been a target and is a path Jones hopes will ultimately set her up for a possible run in the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (gr. III) at Sam Houston Park in January.
"If you look at her and look at the breeding, she's not supposed to be sprinting," Jones said. "But ... I didn't want to try and run her long right off the bat, and then back her back up.
"This one is still pretty nice. Between (her and Songbird), they've raced 16 times with 15 wins, so it's not bad."
A field of 12 were entered for the Raven Run, including unbeaten graded stakes winner Lucy N Ethel, who will be making her first start for trainer Tom Amoss.
Keeneland, Saturday, October 22, 2016, Race 9
- 3 yo Fillies
- 5:30 PM (local)
|1||1Covey Trace (KY)||Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.||118||William J. Denzik, Jr.||15/1|
|2||2Ma Can Do It (KY)||Channing Hill||118||Dale L. Romans||12/1|
|3||3Grace's Treasure (KY)||Jesus Lopez Castanon||118||Michael Ann Ewing||15/1|
|4||4Lucy N Ethel (PA)||Corey J. Lanerie||120||Thomas M. Amoss||9/2|
|5||5Southern Girl (KY)||Florent Geroux||118||J. Larry Jones||12/1|
|6||6Bellamentary (KY)||Martin Garcia||118||Philip D'Amato||6/1|
|7||7Malibu Stacy (KY)||Gabriel Saez||118||George Weaver||30/1|
|8||8Curlin's Approval (KY)||Tyler Gaffalione||118||Martin D. Wolfson||8/1|
|9||9Coniah (CA)||Joe Bravo||118||Kiaran P. McLaughlin||10/1|
|10||10Sophia's Song (KY)||Robby Albarado||118||Todd A. Pletcher||5/1|
|11||11Takrees (KY)||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||118||Kiaran P. McLaughlin||12/1|
|12||12Lightstream (KY)||Julien R. Leparoux||120||Brian A. Lynch||3/1|