When Songbird heads to the post Saturday at Saratoga at 6:08 PM this evening, she will cause an excitement and tension like no other throughout the racing world. People will be murmuring her name while NYRA's commentators make their pitch on the screen. The professional gamblers and amateur ones will debate upsets and make bets against her, but, really, the bets are long-shots. Many bettors will use her as the free square in the across-the-country pick 4 made up of the Fourstardave, the Alabama, the Pacific Classic and the Del Mar Handicap. Some spectators will bet 2$ on Songbird alone, not to cash of course, but to hold on to that little bit of greatness for longer than the 2:00 and change it will take for the bay filly to go from gate to wire.
Six years ago, many in the crowd would have been chanting the name of another great filly by Medaglia d'Oro--the great Rachel Alexandra. She was unmatched in her blistering times and she had never run at Saratoga until the Woodward Stakes against older males. At this point, Rachel had gotten the pesky problem of losing out of the way, not having lost since her 2008 juvenile season. As great as the filly was, she never won at a mile and a quarter, although she broke several records at lesser distances.
Rachel won the Woodward Stakes in one of the most heart-stopping performances I and many others will ever witness. She won her first start at Saratoga, but that start burned her for longer than her connections and fans expected. Rachel was supposed to be immortal, untouchable. The Woodward finished off a stellar campaign and the champion for the remainder of 2009. However, she came back at four and lost two races, among them her second race at Saratoga over the distance of a mile and a quarter. That very race prompted the 2009 Horse of the Year's retirement.
Although, it still seems impossible to compare the two, Songbird will make it that much harder to avoid. She's never broken records, has never had to break records in order to win. Her margin of victories have been astounding because of the ease with which she runs. If she were pushed just a little harder, maybe the beautiful bay filly would break records, but why bother when the goal isn't to run fast, but to assemble a career that lasts several seasons? Last blog post, I mentioned shooting stars. I would like to hope that Songbird is not one of them.
As she goes to the post for the Alabama, Songbird will be attempting to do something that Rachel Alexandra never did. She will attempt to win a mile and a quarter race at Saratoga. Her detractors will point out that she won't face much. The only other grade one winner, Weep No More, has not had the best form of late, finishing last to Songbird in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Dark Nile comes into the race on a four race win streak. Go Maggie Go was a valiant Black Eyed Susan winner, but a so-so effort last out in the Acorn has her flying into the race under the radar. However, this is a bigger field than the one that met Songbird in the CCA Oaks with more fillies from the east that Songbird has not yet faced.
As it currently stands, Songbird looks poised to run her record to 10-0. She has never given the appearance of running out of gas, always running in hand while her rivals flounder in her wake. Her pedigree features the likes of Forty Niner, Northern Dancer (4x5), Damascus, Tom Fool, Tom Rolfe and the great Nijinsky. With her graceful mechanics and a powerful pedigree, there isn't a doubt in my mind that she can't get a mile and a quarter.
If Songbird wins at the classic distance over Saratoga's tricky track, her legacy as the ultimate filly machine will only become more enhanced. If she wins as she has won her previous nine races, her audience, both in person and at home, will be treated to the waltz of racing royalty.