What’s left to say about Fox Hill Farm’s Songbird that hasn’t been said already? Just like the champion she is, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro rises to every challenge and Saturday was no exception as she handled a cross-country trip, brutal heat and humidity, a deeper track than she’s used to and a distance she probably will never tackle again to win the $750,000 by a length over five hopelessly overmatched rivals who gave it their best, but could not get past the dual champion.
Under regular jockey Mike Smith, Songbird turned in her usual routine, galloping straight to the front to lead at every call, logging all the splits in :24.26, :48.36, 1:12.63 and 1:37.50 with Line of Best Fit and Martini Glass chasing. Songbird rounded the final turn full of run and was challenged by Martini Glass down the lane — enough so that Smith actually pulled out his stick and kept her to task within the final furlong. But Songbird was never seriously in danger losing and cruised to her 13th career victory, stopping the clock in 2:03.96 over a fast main Delaware Park track.
Martini Glass managed to hold on to second and was followed by Line of Best Fit, Miss Mo Kelly and Weep No More after Hone In was scratched.
Songbird was the shortest-priced favorite in Delaware Park history and paid $2.10 at odds of 1-9 on the tote board, but closer to 1-20 in the mutuel room.
“I feel great and we pulled it off,” Smith said of his third Delaware Park Handicap victory. “There is always a little pressure and if there is not, there is something wrong. I take this very seriously. These races are not easy. These are the kind of races you get beat in. If she did not run, there would have been a whole lot of doubt, but she responded.”
The victory was particularly important for Delaware native Rick Porter, who has sent out two previous distaffers in his Fox Hill Farm colors for the race only to have them come up short of victory. Porter has been battling a life-threatening form of lymphoma that has kept him from attending many of Songbird’s races, but this year, the 78-year-old businessman, who first visited the Wilmington oval as a child about 70 years ago, was in attendance for Songbird’s victory.
“We were a little nervous at the eighth-pole, but we won and that is all that matters,” Porter said after leading Songbird victorious into the winner’s circle.
Kentucky-bred Songbird, a $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling purchase in 2014, picked up her ninth career Grade 1 victory in the Delaware handicap and earned $450,000 in doing so, bringing her total earnings to $4,562,000. Her only loss was a nose defeat to champion Beholder in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI).
“We are happy that we won and we are happy we could win this race for Rick Porter,” winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said of his third Delaware Handicap win. “I’m not sure where she will go next. There are races all over the country for this filly. Saratoga is definitely a target. We will see how she comes out of this race. It is a tough race going a mile and quarter.”
Songbird Stands Out in Delaware Handicap
A field of just six will line up and race the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles in Saturday’s $750,000 Delaware Handicap (GI) at Delaware Park, a rare handicap for distaffers, and all eyes will be on dual champion Songbird.
Unfortunately, the race looks on paper to be a one-horse affair and while it’s a dangerous dance with fate to crown winners before races are run, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome than a dominant performance from the Fox Hill Farm color-bearer.
It’s going to be brutally hot and humid in Wilmington on Saturday with highs in the mid-90s and humidity just about as high. Afternoon thunderstorms are expected, so a wet track is likely.
Since it was first contested 80 years ago, the Delaware Handicap has gradually grown in stature and prominence on the racing calendar for distaffers and some exceptionally notable runners have contested the early summer feature. Obeah, in whose name the prep was named and who most remember as the dam of champion and Hall of Famer Go For Wand, won this race twice, as did fellow Hall of Famer Susan’s Girl. Broodmare of the Year Relaxing, who was the dam of Hall of Famer and classic winner Easy Goer, won the Delaware Handicap in 1981 and, most recently, champions Fleet Indian, Blind Luck and Royal Delta took home top honors.
This year, the only horse entered to come close to the level of these names is Songbird — but don’t feel sorry for her. A winning machine, it’s not Songbird’s fault so few will line up next to her in any race, let alone this one. It’s not her fault she’s risen to every challenge tossed at her and is just a whisker shy of perfect, thanks to the wrong end of a photo to the queen (Beholder) whose throne she deservedly inherited.
She is heads and shoulders above any horse in her division at this point, is trained by a Hall of Famer and ridden by another in Jerry Hollendorfer and Mike Smith, respectively. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has speed to control the pace, versatility to sit off if necessary and has arguably never been better. She’s been training lights out in California since she returned from vacation and it just doesn’t make sense to expect defeat here.
Weep No More, who hasn’t won a race or even hit the board since taking the Ashland Stakes (GI) 15 months ago, is who the morning line maker thinks will be second choice judging by her 6-1 early odds vs. Songbird’s 1-5. A nice filly with a lot of talent, she has had trouble reaching the winner’s circle against softer competition and it’s hard to imagine she’ll knock the division leader off her well-earned pedestal. Her best from well back early may earn her a placing in Grade 1 company behind Songbird. Eric Cancel will ride and the pair will break from post three.
Martini Glass calls Delaware Park home during the summer months and she’ll need every ounce of experience over the surface here. The daughter of Kitalpha is coming of a nice second in the Obeah Stakes last out where she earned a career-high speed figure. She’s never gone 10 furlongs — it’s an unusual distance for distaffers — but she has a win over the main track and has been training pretty well here since early May. She’s a mid-pack runner who likes to sit behind the pace, a trip she’ll likely get, but she figures only to pick up only an upper cut of the purse. Top jockey Jose Ferrer will be aboard.
Stakes winner Miss Mo Kelley, who was claimed in April for $50,000, may like the added distance if not the added competition. Against the likes of Songbird there’s not much to say except she’s third or fourth best in this field.
Line of Best Fit and Hone in are allowance horses likely entered in hopes of garnering a Grade 1 placing. Who can blame them, especially with a lot to offer behind the winner’s share of the pot?