By Will Robbins
Fox Hill Farm's untouchable filly has displayed remarkable versatility in nine career starts, winning by a combined 47 3/4 lengths at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. The 1 1/4-mile Alabama marks the farthest she's ever run.
"Based on appearances and looking at her record on paper you'd have to think that she wouldn't have any trouble getting a mile-and-a-quarter," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the morning of Aug. 17. "I firmly believe that if we had decided to run in the Delaware Handicap on the 15th (of July) instead of coming here and running in the Coaching Club American Oaks, we were fully prepared to go a mile and a quarter. I feel like an extra eighth of a mile should be right up her alley.
"She's trained well on every racetrack—Keeneland, Santa Anita, and Del Mar—she just trains well on any surface. She's so consistent and such a sweetheart around the barn. She came here to Saratoga and settled right in, and you know I'll probably take her home after the race and I think she'll settle right back in at Del Mar. We're looking forward to running on Saturday. It'll be interesting."
Hollendorfer won the 2010 Alabama with champion 3-year-old filly and six-time grade I winner Blind Luck. Songbird will break from the 6 hole under regular rider Mike Smith. She breezed a half-mile Aug. 15 in her final prep work for her second start at Saratoga, and was clocked in splits of :24.22 and :47.49, galloping out in 1:01.19.
"It was smooth, in her regular Songbird fashion," said assistant trainer Christina Jelm.
Last year's Alabama winner Embellish the Lace, who did not run in the CCA Oaks, ended a three-year streak of consecutive CCA Oaks—Alabama winners; Questing, Princess of Sylmar, and Stopchargingmaria all brought home the grade I double.
Coffeepot Stables' CCA Oaks third-place finisher Flora Dora returns in this spot, adding blinkers after two bullet works with the new equipment.
"She's been a bit more focused," said trainer Marialice Coffey. "Instead of looking at the horses as she's passing them, she seems to be looking down the lane a little bit better. She went like a monster, but she isn't trying; she's just doing it very easily."
Other contenders include WinStar Farms' Dark Nile, who won the Delaware Oaks (gr. III) in her last start, Mike Tarp's Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) winner Go Maggie Go, and Gary and Mary West's grade II winner Family Tree.
The Alabama is one of two back-to-back grade I races slotted on the card, as the Fourstardave was rescheduled to Saturday after the final six races of the Aug. 13 card were cancelled due to severe weather.
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 20, 2016, Race 9 Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 20, 2016, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1King Kreesa (NY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 118 David G. Donk 12/1 2 2Grand Arch (KY) Luis Saez 118 Brian A. Lynch 6/1 3 3Reporting Star (FL) Kendrick Carmouche 117 Elizabeth Voss 20/1 4 4Force the Pass (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 119 Alan E. Goldberg 8/1 5 5Blacktype (FR) Joe Bravo 116 Christophe Clement 10/1 6 6Ring Weekend (KY) John R. Velazquez 119 H. Graham Motion 3/1 7 7A Lot (KY) Javier Castellano 116 Chad C. Brown 10/1 8 8Tourist (KY) Joel Rosario 118 William I. Mott 5/2 9 9Takeover Target (KY) Manuel Franco 119 Chad C. Brown 9/2
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Dark Nile (PA) Joe Bravo 121 Arnaud Delacour 20/1 2 2Weep No More (KY) Corey J. Lanerie 121 George R. Arnold, II 15/1 3 3Going for Broke (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 121 Chad C. Brown 10/1 4 4Go Maggie Go (KY) Luis Saez 121 Dale L. Romans 8/1 5 5Family Tree (KY) Florent Geroux 121 Wayne M. Catalano 10/1 6 6Songbird (KY) Mike E. Smith 121 Jerry Hollendorfer 1/5 7 7Flora Dora (FL) Emmanuel Esquivel 121 Marialice Coffey 20/1
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 20, 2016, Race 9
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 20, 2016, Race 10