Rick Porter has been lucky enough to own some pretty good fillies in his lifetime. First came Jostle, then Eight Belles and, then, Havre de Grace. In a few short weeks, however, he’ll take his newest champion to historic old Saratoga, where champions are crowned. There, he will unleash Songbird.
As we all know, Porter has announced that his champion juggernaut of a filly will venture to the East Coast. This move, according to Porter, has been the plan all along.
“I was getting tired of flying out there,” he joked.
While it may have been in the cards all along, many racing fans were surprised upon hearing the news. Until now, Songbird’s campaign has been rather conservative for a filly of her enormous talent. According to Porter, she was so talented that Mike Smith, who was mulling retirement, told a couple of jockeys at Keeneland that he wouldn’t as long as she was running.
“What’s so great about her is the way she travels,” noted Porter. “She can do these types of fractions in just a gallop, and when Mike (Smith) knows she’s gonna win, he just gears her down.”
She was so dominant in her prep races that many pushed for her to race against colts, but Porter remained steadfast in his decision to keep her within her own division.
“So what if you win the Kentucky Derby?” Porter said. “I know everyone wants to win the Kentucky Derby, but I’m different.
“It’s not going to increase her value as a broodmare, so what is the upside in running her in the Kentucky Derby? There will better times to run against the colts.”
This was all in the past, but what the near-future holds will be a treat for all racing fans.
“The plan is the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama, the Cotillion and then the Breeders’ Cup. That is a long long-range plan.”
Another thing that fans should be grateful to hear is that once Songbird is in New York she will be staying on the East Coast until after she competes in the Alabama.
“I was able to convince Jerry to stay until after she races in the Alabama. After that we’ll go back home, because there is enough time between that race and the Cotillion.”
Porter mentioned that he had wanted to ship in early as well, but finding a flight has proven to be a difficult task. The point in coming out earlier was to give her a chance to acclimate to the East Coast humidity, and get a feel for the track at Saratoga. However, she will still be shipping in a few days prior the Coaching Club American Oaks.
Not being able to ship in sooner is a small concern, but Songbird has been faced with different types of tracks before and has still prevailed. Like Porter said: “The great ones can win on anything.”
Porter also knows that more than humidity and a new track await Songbird. In venturing east, she will likely meet up with Kentucky Oaks heroine, Cathryn Sophia, and the Acorn winner Carina Mia.
“They [Cathryn Sophia and Carnia Mia] are our biggest rivals in the entire country,” said Porter. “You never know when Cathryn Sophia will run a really strong effort.”
However, right now, Cathryn Sophia’s path is unclear. She could go to the Coaching Club American Oaks or forego that in favor of the Test Stakes, which is run as a sprint. With that being the case, Porter believes that the greatest challenge to his filly will come from Carina Mia.
One thing Porter is not worried about in coming to Saratoga is the superstition of it being the “Graveyard of Champions.”
“In horse racing, I’ve got to take superstition out of it. The races are there that we need to run in. We are just going to have to believe that is not a Graveyard of Champions for Songbird.”
In the end, even if “The Graveyard” proves too much for Songbird, the sporting gesture to bring her east and show her off to her fans on the East Coast will be greatly appreciated. Songbird has all the makings of a once-in-a-lifetime horse and with connections like Rick Porter and Jerry Hollendorfer guiding her, it is very likely we will continue to see her running for a very long time.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.