Champion Songbird will put her perfect record on the line July 24 in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course, which offers a purse pumped up from $300,000 to $500,000 to attract the brilliant daughter of Medaglia d'Oro.
Fox Hill Farms' Songbird missed the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) because of a fever but appeared to be fully returned from that setback in her most recent start, the the Summertime Oaks (gr. II), which she won by 6 1/2 lengths June 18 at Santa Anita Park. That victory improved Songbird's record to eight wins in as many starts, with her closest margin of victory being her 3 1/4-length score in this year's Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I).
Trained by Racing Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird closed out 2015 with a 5 3/4-length score in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Keeneland, in her lone start to date away from Southern California. Racing Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has been aboard for all eight starts, will make the trip to Saratoga for Sunday's test.
This year's Santa Anita Oaks marked Songbird's fourth win at the top level. She will try to become the first Santa Anita Oaks winner to capture the CCA Oaks since Lite Light in 1991. Hollendorfer saddled Lite Light to that CCA Oaks victory 25 years ago, while Henry Moreno sent her out for her Santa Anita Oaks score.
Songbird is the second-leading earner to date for Medaglia d'Oro, who won the 2002 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and returned the next season to win the Whitney Handicap (gr. I). Medaglia d'Oro's leading earner, Rachel Alexandra—who enters the Racing Hall of Fame this year—at age 3 defeated older males in the 2009 Woodward Stakes (gr. I).
Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm also boasts a previous victory in the CCA Oaks with Jostle (ridden by Smith) in 2000. He marvels at his current star filly, who most recently amazed him with a six-furlong move in 1:11 2/5 July 16 at Del Mar with Smith aboard.
"If you watch her work, it's just unbelievable," Porter said. "Mike never sat down on her, he let her do the work the way she wanted to do it and it looks like she's just floating in an open gallop, and then those times come up—it's just shocking.
"She had the bullet time for the three-eighths, five-eighths, three-quarters, and the seven-eighths, which was a gallop-out. I've never heard of anything like that. And they didn't catch the time right for the half, but she might've had the bullet for the half too."
Songbird has quickly settled in at Saratoga since arriving July 20.
"She ate up (Thursday) morning and she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. After talking to Jerry, they decided to take her out and give her one lap around the track," Porter said. "She went with the pony and jogged for a mile and an eighth. She wasn't too happy to go back to the barn. She probably wanted to do a little more. She's doing fantastic considering all the travel she's had."
While only four rivals have entered to face Songbird in Sunday's 1 1/8-mile test, it's an accomplished field, although none of the other four 3-year-old fillies has previously faced Songbird.
Ashbrook Farm's Weep No More displayed an impressive closing kick when she rallied to victory 13 lengths back in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. The daughter of Mineshaft will be making her first start since finishing seventh in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) for trainer Rusty Arnold May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Three Chimneys Farm's Carina Mia enters off two straight stakes wins after scoring at the top level for the first time in the one-turn mile Acorn Stakes (gr. I), where she rallied from sixth June 11 at Belmont Park. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will be looking for his first CCA Oaks victory since taking the 1997 edition with Ajina, who closed out that year with a Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) win to secure champion 3-year-old filly honors.
"We're not one to duck away from a challenge, I guess, when we know we've got a good filly," Mott said. "We're here (at Saratoga), and it's a very important grade I race and we want to find out."
Carina Mia should prove a horse of interest early in Sunday's race, as the daughter of Malibu Moon has rallied from sixth in her previous two stakes wins but before those races consistently raced on or near the lead. Should she continue with her more recent closing style, there appears to be little early speed to challenge Songbird, who will break from the rail.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will try for a fourth straight CCA Oaks victory and eighth overall with longshot Mo d'Amour, a daughter of Uncle Mo who enters off a fourth-place finish in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) July 2 at Belmont. King of Prussia Stable's Mo d'Amour won the Busher Stakes earlier this season at Aqueduct Racetrack and finished fifth in the Kentucky Oaks.
Coffee Pot Stables' Flora Dora also is entered, and appears a "go" after the daughter of First Dude was scratched from the Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) July 22 at Saratoga where the two-time stakes winner was cross-entered..
Saratoga Race Course, Sunday, July 24, 2016, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Songbird (KY) Mike E. Smith 121 Jerry Hollendorfer 4/5 2 2Carina Mia (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 121 William I. Mott 6/5 3 3Flora Dora (FL) Emmanuel Esquivel 121 Marialice Coffey 30/1 4 4Weep No More (KY) Javier Castellano 121 George R. Arnold, II 10/1 5 5Mo d'Amour (KY) John R. Velazquez 121 Todd A. Pletcher 12/1
Saratoga Race Course, Sunday, July 24, 2016, Race 10