WILMINGTON, DE – It was much closer than anyone thought, but Songbird prevailed to give owner Rick Porter his first career victory in his home state’s premier event, the Grade 1, $750,000 Delaware Handicap.
“We are happy that we won and we are happy we could win this race for Rick Porter,” said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
On Thursday, Porter, who has been battling cancer and two years of tumors, left the Massachusetts hospital where he was undergoing experimental treatments in order to see the greatest horse he’s ever had win Delaware’s biggest race, where he had previously been 0-for-2.
“It’s something we always wanted to win,’’ said Porter, who had lost as the beaten favorite in his two previous Delaware Handicap tries. “It’s fantastic. We got a little scare there. She’s only run twice (in 2017). It’s hot for her. She’s not used to this heat and all. She was sweating, and she never does. She got a little tired, but this will build a foundation.’’
Songbird immediately took the lead over the field of five fillies and mares as the field passed the grandstand for the first time. She led the group through moderate fractions of :24.26, :48.36, 1:12.63, and 1:37.50 after a mile. Jockey Mike Smith only allowed her to make a 1-length lead ahead of the local hero, Martini Glass, and jockey Jose Ferrer through the far turn. When they applied heavy pressure into the home stretch, though, Smith went to work and put Songbird to task. Smith and Songbird crossed the finish line in 2:03.96, only 1 length ahead of Martini Glass.
“I feel great, and we pulled it off,” said Smith. “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.”
After 11 straight victories to start her career, Songbird suffered her first career defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last November. She took the next seven months off before her 2017 debut in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont, where she similarly had her foes finish closer than normal.
“We were a little nervous at the 1/8-pole, but we won and that is all that matters,” said Porter.
Martini Glass finished 2 lengths ahead of Line of Best Fit, with Miss Mo Kelly and Weep No More completing the order of finish. Hone In was scratched.
The 4-year-old Songbird’s victory increased her career earnings to $4,562,000 and was her 13th in 14 career starts, including her 9th career Grade 1 victory. The only American females to win more are Zenyatta (13), Beholder (11), Lady’s Secret (11), Serena’s Song (11), Azeri (10), Dahlia (10), and Miesque (10) won more Grade 1s in their careers.
Last year’s Summer of Songbird at Saratoga may have a sequel in 2017.
“I’m not sure where she will go next,” Hollendorfer said. “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 a 1/4.”
Songbird returned $2.10, $2.10, and $2.10. Martini Glass brought back $2.60 and $2.40, while Line of Best Fit paid $3 to show.