Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has been on the backs of some world-class fillies and mares during his career, and while he's not ready to put Songbird in that category just yet, there's something about the undefeated sophomore he's never seen before.
“I just haven't been on one that's this smart and this great to run at such a young age,” Smith said Tuesday, ahead of Songbird's start in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. “She's got things figured out at a very young age… does that mean she'll continue to grow and get even better? That's scary to think about.”
Specifically, Smith said Songbird already knows the difference between workout time and race time.
“As relaxed and cool and calm as she is in the mornings, when she comes over in the afternoons, she has just enough edge where you feel confident that she's on fire,” said Smith. “She gets a little dance to her step and you can tell her game face is on. I really like that part about her.”
Monday, Songbird breezed four furlongs in a sizzling 46.80, the fastest of 58 works on the Santa Anita tab. It was how easily the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro moved that left her veteran rider stunned.
“I couldn't believe when I came back and they told me the number. She'll make a guy who thinks he's got a clock in his head not know what time it is at all.”
Smith rode champion Azeri in her first 18 starts, winning 15 of them and finishing second in the other three. He was aboard Zenyatta for the 19-0 run that started her career — and her 20th and final race, a loss by a head to Blame in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Azeri and Zenyatta didn't make their racing debuts until the end of their 3-year-old seasons. Saturday's race will be Songbird's seventh start, and by the calendar, she doesn't turn three until April 30. The sky appears to be the limit on her potential and that has the 50-year-old Smith feeling grateful about getting another opportunity aboard a filly with such class.
“When Azeri retired, I thought 'I'll never see another Azeri.' And when Zenyatta came around, you never think you'd see something like her again. I'm not putting (Songbird) in an elite spot yet, but here comes a filly like this that does everything at 2 and at 3 so far with such dominance. It's really incredible.”
Songbird remains on a path for the Kentucky Oaks May 6, so facing the boys isn't in the plans yet, but Smith said he doesn't think she'd have a problem with it if that day comes down the road. Either way, Smith believes Songbird could one day accomplish feats that rival those of Azeri and Zenyatta.
“She's got a ways to go to get (Zenyatta's record) but I think if anyone can do it, she certainly has the ability and the mindset to maybe pull something like that off.”
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