Rick Porter enjoys bringing special guests to the racetrack to enjoy big event days. In 2013, when Porter’s Normandy Invasion competed in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Porter invited five veterans of the World War II invasion to cheer on his charge, who ultimately finished fourth.
On Sept. 24, Porter’s 3-year-old undefeated superstar Songbird goes for her 11th career victory in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) at Parx Racing, and the filly will have in her corner a few intriguing guests of Porter’s—family members of singer/guitarist Eva Cassidy, whose rendition of the Fleetwood Mac tune “Songbird” inspired Porter to name his filly in honor of her.
Cassidy was a relatively unknown musician playing around Washington D.C. and Maryland who released a couple of CDs before her death from melanoma at age 33 in 1996. Posthumously, though, she has become a legend among other musicians such as Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton after her music became popular in England and around the world. Her rendition of “Songbird” proves to be a haunting ballad with soaring vocals that evoke sunshine powering through the dawn. Released two years after her death, the CD “Songbird” eventually sold millions of copies worldwide.
“There is an undeniable emotional appeal in hearing an artist who died in obscurity singing a song about hope and a mystical world beyond everyday life,” said a review in England’s “The Guardian.”
Porter, moved by the song, saved the name for the Medaglia d'Oro filly he purchased for $400,000 at Saratoga after concurring with bloodstock agent Tom McGreevy’s high opinion of her. Songbird has confirmed their faith, and she will be cheered at Parx by Eva Cassidy’s sister, Annette, and cousin Laura Bligh and her daughter. Cassidy’s mother, Barbara, is hoping to attend as well.
“We are thrilled to be going to the races,” said Bligh, who maintains the evacassidy.org web site. “At first we thought it was cute that somebody named a horse in honor of Eva. Now it’s thrilling and remarkable that she’s turned out to be so exceptional, in a way like Eva’s own story. This will be a joyful experience for the family. Eva would have been astonished but pleased, too, at this honor.”
The family members live in Maryland and Virginia, and while Annette has horses and has ridden most of her life, it will be the initial racetrack outing for the other family members. They were preparing to attend this year’s Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) but Songbird spiked a fever and skipped that race. Geographically, the Cotillion made the most sense for the family.
“Eva was a very humble and modest person who did not expect to have a superstar-type career,” noted Bligh. “She always had the potential, though, and it all happened after she died. Songbird seems to be a one-in-a-million racehorse. There is a connection here.”
Porter, battling his own health issues this year, has taken a special horse and a special day and made it even more extraordinary.