Songbird at Santa Anita Park Nov. 2

Songbird at Santa Anita Park Nov. 2

Anne M. Eberhardt

Smith: 'Go Ahead and Try' to Catch Songbird

Undefeated filly will likely be in front in Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).

Most trainers and jockeys aligned with the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) are evading questions about one of the most intriguing tactical races of the weekend World Championships—except one.

Mike Smith's message is simple.

"If somebody wants to be in front of Songbird, they can go ahead and try," the Hall of Fame jockey said Nov. 3, a day ahead of the clash of champions.

Smith is comfortable being the target, both literally and figuratively, because Fox Hill Farms' Songbird has essentially filled that role in every one of her 11 races. Other than in her debut at Del Mar in July of 2015, the Medaglia d'Oro filly has been both favored and out front, on the lead or among the pacesetters.

"I think it's pretty simple. She's fast and I'm gonna roll. I may even send her a little (out of the gate)," Smith said. "If someone wants to go in front of her, they're going to have to go awfully fast. It's going to be a fast pace and we're going to find out if she's good enough to beat those old mares. I think she is, but we won't know until tomorrow."

Smith also commented on the draw, which he felt benefited all involved. Songbird, a professional performer from the gate, will have the shortest path to the lead from the rail; Beholder, trapped inside during relatively paceless races recently, will have the advantage of the outside post 8 for Gary Stevens to place her in an ideal spot; and Stellar Wind gets post 5 to carve out her best trip under Victor Espinoza.

Trainers of the Distaff favorites, to a man, admit the 1 1/8-mile test will be in the hands of their capable riders. Smith and Stevens are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and Espinoza will join them soon enough.

"I'd predict we're all going to say the same thing," said Stellar Wind's trainer, John Sadler. "The jocks have all been on the horses so much, they're all going to make their own calls. It's going to be a jockeys' race. The really good riders don't just have one plan, stick with it, and hope it goes well. They have to figure it out."

Sadler's prediction was prescient.

"When you get in these kinds of races, with relatively small fields, it really becomes a riders' race," said Songbird's trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer. "And everybody in there is more than qualified."

The most significant swing in post-position fortune is for Beholder, but trainer Richard Mandella isn't convinced being inside of Stellar Wind for tight, second-place finishes in the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I) and Zenyatta (gr. I) was the determining factor.

"I don't know that it made a difference. In this game, we make so many excuses—and I'm not going to make any," Mandella said. "She ran great, but got beat, and we're going to try to turn that table. I'm going to point to masterful training over post position."

Mandella dodged tactics questions, as did Beholder's jockey, Gary Stevens, although he has indicated in the past that he'd like to get the three-time champion back to a stalk-and-pounce trip that she employed in her most impressive victory, the 2015 Pacific Classic (gr. I).

"You're not going to get a whole lot out of me," Stevens said Thursday. "Pace makes the race. That's all I'll give you."

That sentiment goes for at least one relative outsider, as well, although that outsider happens to be a multiple grade I winner.

"Well, I know Songbird is going to be out front," said Larry Jones, trainer of I'm a Chatterbox. "I know we'll be somewhere between second and last.

"What we have going for us is that she's not a one-trick pony. She's gone gate to wire, off the pace, and from dead last. I'll just let that little Frenchman (Florent Geroux) get in the right spot and do what he does."