Bird is the word for Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama at Saratoga Race Course, where Fox Hill Farm’s stellar Songbird will continue her pursuit of perfection in the meet’s marquee race for 3-year-old fillies.
First run in 1872 when Woodbine earned $2,650 for August Belmont, the Alabama has been won by 21 Eclipse Award winners. The stakes record of 2:00 4/5 is held by the immortal Go for Wand, who rests beneath the stars and stripes in the Saratoga infield.
Pace Scenario – Slow
Speed: #5 Family Tree, #6 Songbird
Stalkers: #1 Dark Nile, #4 Go Maggie Go
Closers: #2 Weep No More, #3 Going for Broke, #7 Flora Dora
Hard to see this pace being blazing as Songbird might be able to set her own fractions in this one. If not, she can sit behind Family Tree or another that decides to go in this race as nobody seems to be able to set a blazing pace that could mess with the soon to be 3 year old champion.
Top Pick: #6 Songbird
Simply put: she’s a clear single. All Songbird has to do is run her normal raced and it’s light out for the rest of these. Add to the fact that there is simply no reason to believe she won’t show up with a great effort here today. She is training absolutely brilliant leading up to this race. If she loses it won’t be in a logical way whatsoever, so you are really taking a chance if you are going against her here. Single and move on, but more importantly just enjoy the best horse in her division running at the best track in the country once again.
Other Likely Winners: NONE
Songbird is a single in this spot. Logically there isn’t any way she can be beat by this field…a play against her is just taking a shot in the dark.
Exotic Plays: #4 Go Maggie Go and #5 Family Tree
It’s nice to see Go Maggie Go back today as she made a bit of an impact during the Triple Crown season on the under cards. She was very lightly raced heading into those races, and the break she’s received has been something she might have needed. Family Tree is the “now” horse as she’s coming off back to back wins in the Iowa Oaks and Indiana Oaks. She’s a great story who would normally have a chance, but not today with the great Songbird entered in the field.
Party Crashers: NONE
Once again…I can’t make any logical argument for a longshot in this spot. If Songbird shows up with her best race it’s over.
Throw Outs: #1 Dark Nile, #2 Weep No More, #3 Going for Broke, and #7 Flora Dora
No offense meant for any of these today, but lets face it there is nobody in this division that can match up with the talents of Songbird. It would be a tough task for any filly that gives it a shot.
After sweeping four starts in a breeze last year, Songbird came within one vote of a unanimous accolade as Champion Juvenile Filly. The daughter of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro remained untested through four more facile victories at Santa Anita Park earlier this year, and was then shipped to the Spa by Hall Of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer for the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
Barely settled in, Songbird emerged from the Oaks unbeaten but she did not go untested. The multiple graded stakes winner Carina Mia, stabled locally since late spring, ran up to Songbird’s throatlatch on the turn and a fierce struggle ensued. Songbird was up to the challenge, and, in the words of track announcer Larry Collmus, “whistled past the Graveyard of Favorites” under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Smith has piloted legendary mares from Azeri to Zenyatta. Asked where Songbird fits in that company, he noted Carina Mia “made her do something she never had to do before. If that moves her up like I think it will, there’s no telling how good this filly is.”
Songbird’s owner, Rick Porter, campaigned 2000 Alabama winner Jostle, as well as Havre de Grace, the 2011 Horse of the Year who was beaten a neck in the previous year’s Alabama by Blind Luck.
“That’s how I learned about [Hollendorfer],” Porter recalled. “I talked to some people and they said, ‘he’s all about the horses 24/7 and he’s awake almost all of those.’ I don’t think we’ve ever had a horse early on that ever showed us what Songbird’s doing. I think at this point of her career, I think she’s better by far than anything I’ve had in the middle of their 3-year-old year – by far.”
Going into the Alabama, Songbird is 9-for-9 by a combined 47 ¾ lengths. Hollendorfer feels the added distance is within her scope, as it was for Blind Luck. “Their styles of running are completely different, but they both had the God-given talent to be great racehorses,” he said. “Songbird could have any style of running that she wants, and I think we’re ready to go a mile and a quarter.”
Songbird will break from post position 6 with Smith, a four-time Alabama winner.
WinStar Farm’s Dark Nile was third with a troubled trip in her sprint debut, but the Pioneerof the Nile filly has since reeled off four consecutive victories since stretched to two turns by trainer Arnaud Delacour. Stepping up off a win in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks, she breaks from the rail with Joe Bravo.
“It’s a bit of an audacious spot, but she’s come along nicely and I’ve always thought she would stay a mile and a quarter,” said Delacour.
Going for Broke, a Waterford Stable homebred, makes her stakes debut for Chad Brown. The Blame filly was a maiden winner second time out, and has since captured two allowance races.
“She’s a nice filly who has run through her conditions,” said Brown. “We thought if we were going to get her to the Alabama we would avoid the Coaching Club, which looked difficult, and take one clean shot at a Grade 1. I think the filly will stay a mile and a quarter, but obviously for Songbird to lose something would have to really go wrong. Just to be in the race and have a chance for a piece of it is worth it for us.”
Going for Broke drew post 3 with regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
Freshened since running fourth in the Acorn, Mike Tarp’s dual Grade 2 winner Go Maggie Go returns for Dale Romans. “Obviously it’s going to be a salty race,” said Romans, whose Keen Ice upset American Pharoah in last year’s Travers. “It’s hard to run at the level we should and still stay away from Songbird.”
Go Maggie Go drew post 4 with Luis Saez.
Beginning from post 5 is Gary and Mary West’s Family Tree, who won the Iowa Oaks June 30 and the Indiana Oaks 16 days later.
“I stepped up to the plate and took a chance, everybody is like, ‘Sometimes you’ve got to do it,'” said trainer Wayne Catalano.
Flora Dora and Weep No More, third and fifth in the Oaks, try Songbird again.
Flora Dora breaks from the outside with Manny Esquivel, with blinkers on.
“She’s been a bit more focused,” noted trainer Marialice Coffey. “We’re excited about her coming into this race.”
Weep No More, searching to recapture the form that won her the Grade 1 Ashland, breaks from post 2 and switches back to Corey Lanerie. Trainer Rusty Arnold feels the daughter of Mineshaft is a “true mile and a quarter horse.”