It’s a good thing that Songbird has racked up more than $3.3 million to date in purse earnings in her two years of racing, because her owner, Rick Porter, needs a new wardrobe.
Porter, who campaigns the undefeated superstar in the name of his Fox Hill Farms, enjoys making a splash with his clothes, including a penchant for colorful bowties and sport coats with, as he calls it, "pizzazz." The Delaware native, 76, who for many years headed up his family’s Porter Automotive Group of up to 15 dealerships, makes the pilgrimage up to clothier Paul Stuart, located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th street in Manhattan, for his threads. And because of his lengthy fight with cancer and subsequent weight loss, he needs to gather his pizzazz in a smaller size these days.
Happily, Porter reports he’s feeling good a week before Songbird tackles older fillies in the Nov. 4 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park, in which she will vie for her 12th victory and help keep her owner in the latest styles. Even more importantly than the financial help she’s provided has been Songbird’s effect on Porter’s physical well-being.
"When you’re feeling down in the dumps a little bit, she’s been a great thing for me to look forward to," Porter noted. "She allows me to not dwell on my problems; that and the fact things are going well with my family."
Because of his chemotherapy treatment last summer, Porter’s immune system was weakened and he got a bad bacterial infection that caused him to be hospitalized and miss Songbird’s victory in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course. His white-blood-cell count back to normal now, Porter is planning on heading a 16-person contingent for the trip to California and the World Championships.
Porter and his personal bloodstock agent Tom McGreevy plucked Songbird out of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale for $400,000, and she has never taken a backward step. Possessing brilliant speed and the ability to carry it well past the Distaff’s nine furlongs (she won the 10-furlong Alabama by seven lengths), Songbird presents problems for those who want to run with her early or try to collar her late. Porter has talked to regular pilot Mike Smith and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer about race strategy in the Distaff, and the prevailing opinion is to leave things up to the filly.
"Mike says he just lets her decide where she wants to be," Porter said. "He doesn’t want to get into a speed duel with anybody and says she tends to lay off if they’re going too fast. I don’t know how smart he thinks she is, but he lets her do what she wants to do and usually it looks good to him.
"It will be interesting to see what happens, whether they let her go or whether someone else wants the lead, and then how comfortable she is laying off. Obviously, this is a huge test for her against older mares like Stellar Wind and Beholder and I'm a Chatterbox. It’s hard to know how good she really is. She was tested by Carina Mia for what, maybe a quarter-mile in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I)? And the outcome of the test was the other horse was done and she kept going. That’s always a good sign."
Porter is no stranger to owning good horses, such as Round Pond, Eight Belles, Hard Spun , and Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, and could have a second Horse of the Year on his ledger should Songbird prevail in the Distaff and California Chrome stub his toe in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). He and Hollendorfer have mapped out an ambitious schedule for Songbird this season, who will be making her eighth trip to the post in 2016 in the Distaff. They have shot down any thought of competing against colts this season, something they might tackle with her next season if she continues to progress.
Meanwhile, she has succeeded not only at the races, but in keeping Porter infused with positive thoughts. She’s been a constant day in and day out, something on which to train his thoughts.
“In the horse business, if you can’t get excited about having a horse like Songbird, you need to get out of the sport," Porter said, excusing himself to prepare for a television interview with NBC Sports Network that might feature parts of his new wardrobe. "Usually I don’t like these things with cameras and all, but I guess it’s part of having fun with the horse. If you’re not getting any attention, your horse isn’t doing very well."