Champion Songbird will return soon to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's California barn

Champion Songbird will return soon to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's California barn

Anne M. Eberhardt

A Plan for Songbird as Year-End Honors Loom

Owner Rick Porter is plotting the champion filly's return.

Rick Porter has a wish list.

Christmas has come and gone, but what the owner wants—an ambitious 4-year-old campaign from champion 3-year-old filly elect Songbird—may be doled out gradually this year, starting when his otherworldly runner returns to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer at the end of this month from her winter rest at WinStar Farm. 

To hope Songbird comes back in 2017 anywhere near the level of her sophomore campaign for Porter's Fox Hill Farm, when she blitzed through seven straight victories for an 11-race win streak, capped by a gallant nose loss in a knock-down, drag-out brawl with champion Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), is high expectation alone. But Porter is a sporting man and a planning man, and to that end he has mapped out a "perfect-world" scenario for Songbird that will have fans of the Medaglia d'Oro  filly drooling in anticipation with hopes that all goes well.

"I pretty much have a campaign that I've set up. There's a few races we're not sure of, but I ran them by Jerry and he's happy with them," Porter said Jan. 5, a few weeks before Songbird is slated to ship back to Southern California after her usual winter layoff. "She's doing great. We've got her scheduled for the first flight after (Jan. 20) to go back to Jerry.

"If she's ready we would run her in the Santa Margarita (G1) March 18. I'm hoping she's ready for that. She usually gets ready pretty quickly, but we're not going to run her if she's not. If we don't go there, then the first race would be the Apple Blossom (G1).

"Assuming she's doing well and competing well at the highest level, she could run in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont (June 11). I don't know if we'd do anything before that, but then I'd like to run her in the Delaware Handicap (G1). That's on the list because I've won the Delaware Oaks, and I'd like to win the Delaware Handicap and get my name up on that plaque forever, since I'm from Delaware."

As Porter's plan unfolds, the campaign gears up to a potential the owner still maintains could become reality—a long-awaited race against the boys.

"There's a couple races in August," he said. "There's the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, and there's a race at Del Mar on the 20th that would be against the boys—the Pacific Classic (G1). That's a possibility. It depends on whether I think we could win it. We can look at the numbers and times and this and that, and if we think we can be competitive against the boys, we'll do it. I'm not afraid to get beat, but I want to be competitive."

And after this major step for Songbird? A return to the Breeders' Cup World Championships, of course, via a stepping-stone like the Zenyatta (G1) at Santa Anita Park or Spinster (G1) at Keeneland. Whether she ends up in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) or Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) remains to be seen.

"That's already a lot of wishful thinking," Porter said. " Let's just hope she comes back healthy and as good as she was."

For her owner, who continues to undergo treatment for cancer, Songbird has been a brilliant spot during a dark personal challenge. Not only is she a cinch to pick up her second Eclipse Award after her champion juvenile filly title in 2015, but she joins California Chrome  and Arrogate  as a finalist for Horse of the Year honors.

"California Chrome is going to win it. We all know that. But it sure is an honor for her to be a finalist. She's the real deal," Porter said.