Back when Songbird obliterated a stacked field at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies just over a month ago, owner Rick Porter suggested that he would consider running her against the big boys at the 20-post Kentucky Derby. He’s changed his tune, but is still whistling along as the undefeated Songbird will now focus on the Kentucky Oaks instead.
It may seem out of the ordinary to take a prized filly and have her challenge the top male competition, but Porter has been known to test his top female champions. The most famous example of this is Eight Belles, the filly who famously ran in the 2008 Kentucky Derby and finished second to Big Brown. Eight Belles collapsed at the wire in a tragic scene, where her front ankles had both fractured, and had to be immediately euthanized on the spot.
That is a story of terrible misfortune, but it did not stop Porter from nominating Havre de Grace, the 2011 Horse of the Year, in that season’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Havre de Grace would finish fourth, thankfully, without incident.
The plan for Songbird is going to be much more strategic. Porter and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer haven’t exactly ruled out running her against the boys, but that won’t happen until later in 2016 if it happens at all. The aim is to have her run the mile at Las Virgines Stakes on February 6th, before testing her at the Santa Anita Oaks on April 9th over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
If all goes well in those races, then it’s on to the Kentucky Oaks on May 6th. There’s definitely room in between the two prep races to post her in something else without wearing her down. “Two prep races is probably enough, but if Jerry thinks she needs something in between February and April based on how she’s doing, we’ll talk about that,” remarked Porter.
Part of the challenge of running fillies against their male counterparts is that it can seriously bruise their confidence if the race doesn’t turn out right. Songbird would’ve had to compete in at least one of the prep races for the Kentucky Derby in order to qualify, and that seems like a risk Porter and Hollendorfer weren’t keen to take on. It’s probably the right decision in the long run.
Porter continued to allude to Songbird competing in the high end GR1 stakes races for fillies throughout the season before adding that she could, “maybe take on the boys before she retired like Havre de Grace. That would be ideal for me.”
Along with the win at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Songbird also won at the Chandelier, Del Mar Dubatante and MSW. Nobody has been able to challenge the 2-year old even remotely. Her career earnings thus far are $1.5 million, and if Porter continues to play his cards right, Songbird will be singing a very profitable tune in 2016.