Songbird to Be Tested By History in Coaching Club American Oaks

Shuvee

Shuvee (photo via www.saratoga150.com)

To say the Coaching Club American Oaks is steeped in history is an understatement. Some of the best sophomore fillies in the history of racing have taken home the trophy after a victory and this year Fox Hill Farm’s champion Songbird ventured as far east as she could go to Saratoga in her attempt to add to her already impressive resume. The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained filly will be the overwhelming favorite in the field of five and rightfully so.

The race, named for a sporting club in the late 19th century centered on harness driving, or “coaches,” was created by August Belmont in 1917 to mimic the Epsom Oaks in England. Though contested at Aqueduct downstate until 1967, it has now become the biggest race for the division at the elite Saratoga summer meeting since moving from Belmont Park in 2010. Over the years it’s been contested at varying distances, including 27 renewals at 1 1/2 miles in certain years, but it’s been held at today’s nine-furlong distance since 2010.

The thunderstorms set to hit the Saratoga Springs area on Saturday are expected to clear out by Sunday, so a nice, dry track can be anticipated. It will be hot and humid, as is normal toward the end of July in the upstate New York, with afternoon highs expected to reach the upper 80s.

Through the years, the Coaching Club American Oaks has become synonymous with champions and exceptional pedigrees and Breeders’ Cup winners. In 1920, thoroughbred racing enthusiast William R. Coe’s Cleopatra captured top honors en route to earning a divisional championship title and, in the years that followed, 32 other fillies would win the race before taking home the crown as the nation’s top 3-year-old filly, including Top Flight, Black Helen, Vagrancy, Twilight Tear, Next Move, Real Delight, Bowl of Flowers, Lamb Chop, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, Davona Dale, Bold ’n Determined, Mom’s Command, Open Mind, Sky Beauty, Ajina, Banshee Breeze, Ashado and Princess of Sylmar, just to name a few. Also, no fewer than 11 future Hall of Famers boast the Coaching Club American Oaks as part of their resumes.

Songbird

Songbird

There’s very little to be said about Songbird that hasn’t been said already: undefeated, champion, Breeders’ Cup winner, millionaire.  And according to Hollendorfer, the filly has never trained better heading into any race; she also shipped across the country and arrived in New York in good order before settling in to trainer Wesley Ward’s shedrow nicely. Songbird schooled in the gate on Friday and galloped a mile and a half over Saratoga’s main track and is expected to follow the same routine on Saturday. She schooled in the paddock during the races on Friday as well, much to the delight of the opening day crowd. She will be bet, she will be favored, she will be cheered and she will likely win.

The Coaching Club American Oaks is the second leg of what’s become known as the New York Triple Tiara, formerly the Filly Triple Crown, this year linking the Acorn Stakes (GI), the CCA Oaks and the Alabama Stakes (GI). Though there have been four different combinations of races to make up the series, which also has included the Kentucky Oaks (GI), the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (GII) and the Mother Goose Stakes (GI) in various years, today’s combination makes only Carina Mia eligible to earn the honor this year.

Three Chimney’s Farm’s Carina Mia is riding a two-race win streak, including the Acorn and the Eight Belles Stakes (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day and hasn’t ever run a bad race. She’s faced some good competition in her six-race career, but never the likes of Songbird. If there’s going to be any sort of an upset it’s safe to say she’s the one most likely to pull it off.

Ashland Stakes (GI) winner Weep No More hasn’t raced since faltering in the May 6 Kentucky Oaks, but has been training well at Keeneland for trainer Rusty Arnold. She defeated some good horses in the Ashland, including Cathryn Sophia and Rachel’s Valentina, and has a nice distance pedigree, which can only help her in here.

Ruffian

Ruffian (photo via wikimedia.org)

Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Coaching Club American Oaks a record seven times and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has guided home five winners, each time for Pletcher. The pair team up again this year with longshot Mo d’Amour, who hasn’t won since taking the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct back in February. Another from the standout first crop of Uncle Mo, she has her work cut out for her breaking from the outside post position.

Flora Dora hasn’t won a race in five tries since winning the Busanda at Aqueduct in January, but did earn a decent second in an optional claiming race at Belmont last out. Hard to believe her best puts her ahead of the top three in here.

Post time for the Coaching Club American Oaks, which carries a $200,000 boost in value this year to $500,000 thanks to the presence of Songbird, is set for 6:18 p.m. ET on Sunday and has been carded as the 10th race on the card.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.