Songbird Set to Make 2017 Debut in Ogden Phipps
By Jeremy Balan, courtesy Blood-Horse
There's a common parlance for racehorses of a certain stature—that the most accomplished equine athletes don't have anything to else prove.
Jerry Hollendorfer has a different perspective.
"There's no proven entities in horse racing," the Hall of Fame trainer said June 8 at Belmont Park, as he walked with Fox Hill Farm's Songbird when she made her way to the main track for the first time to prepare for the June 10 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1). "You have to prove yourself every day and this is a good opportunity."
The $750,000 Phipps will be the two-time champion's first test as a 4-year-old, a stage many horsemen consider to be key in the development of their horses. The physical change from age 3 to 4 is perhaps the most significant step up in physical maturity, and Hollendorfer said Songbird's development is no different.
"She's bigger and stronger this year, but you still have to be able to make the transition, and I think she can make it," Hollendorfer said.
Following the first loss of her career—by a nose—to four-time champion Beholder in the Nov. 4 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), Songbird had her 2017 training delayed when she sustained a minor leg injury in March after she kicked her stall at Santa Anita Park.
After she returned to breezing in early April, Hollendorfer initially targeted the June 3 Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, but opted for the Phipps to get more training into the Medaglia d'Oro filly.
"It gave us a little longer to get ready, so I could get two more works into her, as opposed to just a couple of three-quarters works before the (Beholder) Mile," Hollendorfer said.
Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Songbird in all 12 of her starts—and to seven grade 1 wins—was aboard for her last work June 6 at Santa Anita, and also spoke to her development in her last year as a filly.
"I worked her myself and she just went absolutely wonderful, she really did," Smith said of the 1-2 morning-line favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Phipps. "If the way she's looking and the way she's acting is any indication on how she's going to come back, I couldn't ask her to come back any better. She looks so good. I just can't brag enough about her.
"She's gotten older, and smarter, and she's just calmer about everything. She knows what's going on, and when it's race day, she gets her game face on. Hopefully she'll do it as well as she's been doing, if not even better. I think there's a chance she could be even better. She's certainly bigger and stronger. I know that."
The main challengers are two other 4-year-olds—Highway Star and Carina Mia—who have the benefit of race preps for the Phipps.
Chester and Mary Broman's homebred Highway Star has thrived in New York during the spring, with back-to-back graded scores in the Distaff Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack April 9 and the Ruffian Stakes (G2) at Belmont May 13. The New York-bred daughter of Girolamo is unbeaten in four outings over Belmont's main track
Three Chimneys Farm's Carina Mia, who has been well-beaten by Songbird in two past meetings—5 1/4 lengths behind in the 2016 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga Race Course and 5 3/4 lengths back in the Cotillion (G1) at Parx Racing—has every right to improve upon her 4-year-old debut, a third-place finish in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs May 6.
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