Stop It! Songbird is NOT the Best 3-Year-Old in Training

Songbird went straight to the front and widened her lead leaving the far turn to win the Santa Anita Oaks in convincing fashion.

Songbird went straight to the front and widened her lead leaving the far turn to win the Santa Anita Oaks in convincing fashion.

After Songbird romped in the Santa Anita Oaks for her seventh win in as many lifetime starts on Saturday, social media, as it is wont to do, went crazy, proclaiming the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro the best three-year-old in training. I’ve seen eulogies of saints — who died saving children from a burning building — that were less flattering than some of the things I saw written about Songbird in the wake of her latest triumph.

Enough already.

Yes, Songbird is a good, maybe even great, filly. No, she is not as good as Rachel Alexandra — not even close. No, she is not the best three-year-old in training. Did those gushing about the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee bother to watch the other races at Santa Anita Park on Saturday?

If they had, they’d have noticed that, despite the wet conditions, the main track at the Great Race Place was pretty glib. In the fourth race, a horse named Chief Lion traversed six furlongs in a blistering 1:08.79 to notch his fifth win in 25 career starts; in the Santa Anita Derby, which immediately proceeded the Oaks, Exaggerator went 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.66; and, in the very first race of the day, Wild About Deb, a maiden — that’s right, he was winless prior to this weekend — traveled nine furlongs in 1:49.02.

Songbird completed her 1 1/16-mile journey in the Oaks in 1:44.14.

This means that in order to match the times of Wild About Deb and Exaggerator, Songbird would have had to run another half-furlong in 4.88 or 5.52 seconds respectively. That would make her the best three-year-old in training… and raise questions as to how often she requires an oil change.

Of course, I know what some are going to say: Songbird won easily, while Wild About Deb and Exaggerator had to work to record their faster times.

OK, I’ll play along. I’ll pretend that Wild About Deb didn’t win by six lengths “under a steady hand ride and a long hold late,” according to the Equibase chart-caller; I’ll ignore the fact that Exaggerator won by 6 ¼ lengths, also under “a long hold late.”

Rachel Alexandra holds of Macho Again in the 2009 Woodward Stakes.

Rachel Alexandra holds of Macho Again in the 2009 Woodward Stakes.

Instead, I’ll focus on the fact that Songbird won by 3 ¾ lengths, but could have won by 300 ¾ lengths. I’ll dismiss the fact that it took her 7.01 seconds to run her final sixteenth, because, if she had been challenged, she could have run at least 10 seconds faster than that (I know this results in a negative time, but I don’t care — Twitter has got me twitterpated about Songbird right now).

And since we’ve gone to the land of leprechauns and unicorns, let’s talk about that comparison to Rachel Alexandra I’ve seen making the rounds:

  • As a three-year-old, Rachel’s worst Brisnet speed figure was a 102 in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Songbird’s best BSF is a 102 — and she earned that as a two-year-old in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
  • When Rachel Alexandra won the prestigious Mother Goose Stakes by 19 ¼ lengths, she was “under wraps” for the final sixteenth, yet still covered the last furlong in 12.73 seconds. Oh, and she set a new stakes record in the process… but I’m sure Songbird would have whipped her but good.
  • Rachel faced males three times as a sophomore, including older males in the Grade I Woodward. She was 3-0 with an average Brisnet speed figure of 109 in those races.

Look, I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade. But as a bettor, I start to salivate when I see a horse’s reputation exceed its ability. With Cathryn Sophia now ruled out of the Kentucky Oaks, we could see the shortest priced favorite since the aforementioned Rachel Alexandra on the first Friday in May.

I’ll likely be betting against Songbird in the Kentucky Oaks. Not because I don’t think she’s good, but because I don’t think she’s as good as everybody else seems to think… and I don’t mind missing out on a $3 payoff if I’m wrong.

Songbird

Rachel Alexandra

Speed Ration Key Chart

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