Rick Porter's Songbird was headed by Carina Mia rounding the final turn at the Spa, but the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee repelled that challenge, accelerating through the stretch to win the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks by 5 1/4 lengths. The sophomore daughter of Medaglia D'Oro covered nine furlongs over Saratoga's fast main track in 1:49.56 under veteran Mike Smith.
“She's real special,” Hollendorfer said of Songbird. “We thought we were going to get tested and we thought [jockey] Julien [Leparoux] would send [Carina Mia] at us early, which he did. We got a chance to test our filly and she dug in. Great race from [trainer] Billy [Mott]'s filly, too.”
Songbird jumped out of the starting gates on the lead, as expected, and Julien Leparoux kept the Bill Mott-trained Carina Mia up close to the undefeated filly through the early going. The margin between the two sophomore fillies was just a half-length through a first quarter mile in :23.86, with Mo d'Amour and Flora Dora tracking the pace. Weep No More trailed the field. Through a half-mile in :47.52, Songbird extended her leading margin to a length, then out to a length and a half.
Leparoux moved on Carina Mia entering the far turn, and the Eight Belles and Acorn Stakes victor drew alongside the eight-time winner Songbird. The two fillies were nose-to-nose from mid-way through the turn until nearly the eighth pole, with Carina Mia throwing everything she had at Songbird. It was the first time in her career that Songbird had been challenged from behind, and the champion filly fought right back courageously. Finally, Songbird broke loose, leaving Carina Mia spinning her wheels in the dirt behind her.
“Songbird's got a big, beautiful stride. I didn't panic,” Smith said. “The more [Carina Mia] got on top of her, the more it made her aggressive. I got after her a couple times right then, and that was pretty much it. I was surprised at how at the end she was actually pulling away again. But I knew at some point that Carina Mia was going to give me a serious test, an acid test, and she did – she made her do something she never had to do before. We'll see what happens. A lot of times, a true champion, this will move them up. This was the first time someone got inside of her gut. A lot of times it'll really move them up, and if that happens, oh my. If this race moves her up like I think it will, there's no telling how good this filly is.”
By the time she crossed the wire in the “Graveyard of Champions,” Songbird had dispelled that curse by 5 1/4 lengths. Carina Mia was clearly second-best, with Flora Dora passing Mo d'Amour to be third.
“I asked her more than I've ever had to,” admitted Smith. “I take my hat off to Carina Mia, she made her run a little bit. But once I got going, I was comfortable. This is a tough place to just step into town – especially when you're coming from the west coast, the humidity factor is what it is; the air is so much thicker here. It gets to me as a rider, so I can't imagine a horse.”
Bred in Kentucky by John Antonellli, Songbird was a $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling sale purchase. She has won all nine of her career starts, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall at Keeneland. The CCA Oaks is her fifth Grade 1 win, and boosts her earnings to a total of $2.4 million.
Watch the race replay here:
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