Darley Stables' Songster hummed a winning tune while pulling away to register a two-length win in the $250,000 Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) undercard Saturday.
Ridden by Edgar Prado for trainer Tom Albertrani, Songster pulled away from Too Much Bling and Noonmark, who finished third, in the late stages of the seven-furlong race to record his third win from five lifetime starts. The winning time in the seven-furlong event, previously known as the Riva Ridge, was 1:21.45.
"He really responded when he needed to find another gear," Albertrani said. "Edgar kept Too Much Bling down in there and did a great job riding this horse. He really loves to be on the outside."
The Woody Stephens win comes on the heels of an impressive 10-length score in the Hirsch Jacobs (gr. III) May 20 at Pimlico.
Songster returned $7.70, $3.40, and $2.80. Too Much Bling paid $2.90 and $2.50. Noonmark returned $4.60. The exacta paid $15.80.
Fabulous Strike set an early pace leading the field through fractions of :22.31, 44.96, and 1:08.88 for six furlongs. Too Much Bling tried to squeeze through an opening on the rail, and the field charged down the long Belmont straight before Songster moved to the outside of his foes to pull away for the win.
Noonmark, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, advanced three wide on the turn and finished up well to be third, three-quarters of a length behind Too Much Bling. Fabulous Strike finished fourth, followed by Likely, Doc Cheney and Saint Daimon.
"Today, he showed a lot of courage," Prado said of the winner. "He keeps improving mentally. This is a beautiful horse that has a lot of talent."
Bred in Florida by Richard Giacopelli, the son of Songandaprayer
was produced from the French Deputy mare Perry Lapeau. The colt was a $200,000 purchase at the 2004 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale.
Songster avenged a nine-length loss to Too Much Bling in the Bay Shore (gr. III) at Aqueduct on a sloppy, sealed track April 8. The black colt, never worse than second, earned his third win in five lifetime starts and collected $150,000. His bankroll now stands at $265,800.
Too Much Bling, who had to overcome the rail post, was in tight quarters through most of the stretch run. Trainer Bob Baffert said he would have stayed in California had he known before entering that his colt was on the inside.
"With a horse like him – with his style – he doesn't like to be in there," said Baffert. "(Fabulous Strike) kept him pinned in there the whole way. Songster is a good horse, but he was in a perfect spot there. Put him in the 1 and us on the outside, and I think it's different."
Still, jockey Garrett Gomez said this was the first time Too Much Bling was willing to relax.
"There were a lot of positives," he said. "He withstood the hold and today, he showed some versatility."
Albertrani said Songster's next race would mostly likely be the King's Bishop (gr. I) for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs on Aug. 26 at Saratoga Race Course.
Dontfearthereaper and Keyed Entry scratched.