Songbird wins the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park July 15

Songbird wins the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park July 15

Chad B. Harmon

Songbird Set to Regain Form in Personal Ensign

After a less-than-spectacular performance at Delaware, champ heads back to Saratoga.

Rick Porter has a number of reasons as to why Songbird didn't look like Songbird in the Delaware Handicap (G1).

The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro  filly won by a length July 15 at Delaware Park—over Martini Glass, who has yet to win a stakes in her 16-race career—but the power and brilliance Songbird displayed in 13 previous races just wasn't there.

"It was a combination of things," the Fox Hill Farm owner said. "The first thing was the weather. I've never seen her get so overheated before a race. Even after the race she was huffing and puffing and sweating like a pig.

"(Jockey) Mike (Smith) had also told me earlier in the day that the track was really deep and to not get upset if he was out in the four path. It was just a completely different surface than she's used to. And remember, she also gave (eight) pounds."

NOVAK: Songbird Holds Fast in Delaware Handicap

While the Delaware Handicap might still be in the back of her connections' minds, what matters most is seeing the old Songbird again in the $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) Aug. 26 at Saratoga Race Course.

"She didn't pull away like you'd think she would—from that kind of horse, with that kind of record," Porter said. "She had excuses, but we'll find out Saturday."

Since returning to Southern California to train at Del Mar, every sign has been that the old Songbird is back. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said after her final work at Del Mar Aug. 20 for the Personal Ensign, that her trip to Delaware "got her very fit" and he communicated to Porter earlier during her training that she should be set for a top effort at Saratoga.

BALAN: Songbird, Unique Bella Work at Del Mar

"If that didn't get her fit, I don't know what will," Porter said of the Delaware Handicap. "Jerry texted me the other day after a gallop that it's the best gallop she's had since he's trained her. But we're looking at a quality horse in Forever Unbridled."

A multiple grade 1 winner in her own right—although her two top-level wins are well behind Songbird's nine—Charles Fipke's homebred Forever Unbridled looked plenty impressive in her first start of 2017, when she closed from sixth to win the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) by 1 3/4 lengths June 17 at Churchill Downs.

NOVAK: Forever Unbridled Makes Triumphant Return

If the 5-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song takes a step forward in the Personal Ensign, she could be a worthy challenger to her champion rival. Although she may have been lost in the hubbub of the dramatic finish between Beholder and Songbird in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), Forever Unbridled was only 1 1/2 lengths behind the two champions and 2 1/2 lengths clear of another Eclipse Award winner in Stellar Wind.

The only other graded winner in Saturday's five-horse field is StarLadies Racing and Lisa Troutt's Eskenformoney, the 2016 Rampart Stakes (G3) winner.

If a familiar Songbird shows up Saturday to win her seventh race outside of California—all grade 1 races—Porter has a plan going forward. If all goes well, she'll prep for the Breeders' Cup in the Sept. 30 Zenyatta Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park. Porter didn't leave much wiggle room for which Breeders' Cup race she'll go in.

"I planned this all out before her first race (this year). Jerry agreed with me, so every race we've planned; we've kept to it," Porter said. "It includes the Zenyatta and the Breeders' Cup. A lot of it depends on how she runs Saturday, assuming the old Songbird is back.

"It's almost 100% we'll run in the (Breeders' Cup) Distaff (G1). I'd say 99.9%," Porter said. "That's where she belongs. She's proven all she needs to prove. I mean, I don't even know how many racetracks she's won at.

"We don't need to prove anything by beating males. I'm more concerned about her returning to be Songbird so she can run next year. That's what I want to do."

Entries: Personal Ensign S. (G1)

Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 26, 2017, Race 6

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $700,000
  • 3 yo's & up Fillies and Mares
  • 2:23 PM (local)
11Flora Dora (FL)Florent Geroux117Marialice Coffey20/1
22Songbird (KY)Mike E. Smith123Jerry Hollendorfer2/5
33Going for Broke (KY)Irad Ortiz, Jr.117Chad C. Brown5/1
44Forever Unbridled (KY)Joel Rosario123Dallas Stewart7/2
55Eskenformoney (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJavier Castellano117Todd A. Pletcher12/1