Is Songbird the Next Ruffian? The Numbers Might Surprise You!

BabySongbirdAfter Nyquist won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, NBC analyst Randy Moss was quick to point out that it took the two-year-old son of Uncle Mo a second longer to traverse the 1 1/16 miles than it took Songbird to cover the same distance in the BC Juvenile Fillies.

Since then, the accolades have been pouring in like booze at a church social… hosted by Johnny Manziel (you wondered where I was going with that, didn’t you?). Here’s just a sampling of the comments I found on Songbird’s profile page at Horse Racing Nation:

“This may be far-fetched but how about a grand slam with a filly in 2016?”
triplechrome

“I am old and never thought I would see another Ruffian. But now I have.”
MantonHanover

“She will probably win the Santa Anita Derby by at least 10 lengths.”
BeastBob

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: Songbird is not being pointed for the Santa Anita Derby or any of the Triple Crown races. Hence, a 10-length triumph in the former and a sweep of the latter (with the BC Classic thrown in for good measure) is simply not in the cards.

“It would be nice to win the Kentucky Derby, but I’d like to do it with a nice colt,” said Songbird’s owner Rick Porter. “I don’t like the [Kentucky Derby] point system. We’d have to run in the Santa Anita Derby with her. I think it’d be great for your ego, but the smart move is to stay on the path we’re on to the [Kentucky] Oaks.”

Interestingly, no filly has won the Kentucky Derby without having faced males prior to the first Saturday in May, so Porter’s complaints about the point system would seem to be without merit, at least in this case.

But the question remains: Exactly how good is Songbird? Is she, in fact, the equal of Ruffian, as MantonHanover seems to believe?

Although this may seem like blasphemy to some — and wishy-washiness to others — the answer is “yes” and “no.”

Ruffian was unquestionably fast. She set eight stakes records and two track records, despite starting just 11 times in her star-crossed career. However, it needs to be noted that the daughter of Reviewer never left the East Coast and competed at a time when speed reigned supreme. For instance, Ruffian raced five times at Aqueduct, a track where 18 of the 19 main-track records from 4 ½ furlongs to 2 ¼ miles were set prior to 2000, including nine prior to 1980.

Ruffian

Ruffian also beat up on the same group of overmatched fillies — repeatedly. In the first five starts of her career, trainer Frank Whiteley’s stable star faced an average of 4.6 horses per race and she beat Laughing Bridge (5-of-15 lifetime) twice.

Songbird, on the other hand, has not set any stakes or track records, but she is a three-time Grade I winner (Ruffian had captured two Grade I races at the same stage in her career) — and she beat what was arguably the best of the best two-year-old fillies in the Breeders’ Cup.

Thus far, Songbird has faced an average of 7.6 opponents per start.

Songbird

My pace figures are less definitive. While Songbird has shown more early zip than Ruffian did (surprisingly) after five starts, Ruffian possessed the better late kick, which she later demonstrated by stretching her speed over 1 ½ miles in the Coaching Club American Oaks while recording a zero late speed ration (LSR).

As great as these two fillies are/were, Rachel Alexandra may have been the best of the bunch.

RachelAlexandra

Not only was the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro fast — she tied Ruffian’s stakes record in the Mother Goose — she had outstanding early and late foot as well. In fact, during her juvenile and sophomore campaigns, Rachel the Great earned a positive Pace Profile (see below) 11 times in 13 starts.

By way of comparison, Ruffian recorded just three positive Pace Profiles in the 10 races she completed, while Songbird has produced just one positive pace profile in her five starts thus far.

SongbirdRuffianRachelAlexandra

SpeedRationKeyChart

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.