Once in a great while the exceptional horse comes along.
Fans of Thoroughbred racing should thank their lucky stars to have witnessed such a horse in 2016 in the form of 3-year-old filly Songbird. Fox Hill Farms’ unbeaten 2-year-old of 2015 carried through her sophomore campaign in much the same way, with seven consecutive victories, earning her the unanimous Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. Not until her final outing of the year did she feel the sting of defeat.
The loss, to champion Beholder in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) by the slimmest of noses, in no way diminishes the perception of the dark bay or brown filly. If anything, her loss shows an even higher level of her class, much like Seattle Slew’s defeat to Exceller in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), or Zenyatta’s narrow loss to Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Odds-on in her first seven starts of the year and the 11-10 favorite against Beholder in her seasonal finale, Songbird dealt out wins that were exceptional. Always racing on or near the front end, her opening quarter-mile and half-mile fractions were never blistering, but she remained in control at all times while seemingly galloping along under regular rider Mike Smith.
If there was a moment that looked as if it might not be her day, it was fleeting, as she always had an open-length lead coming out of the far turn and was never challenged by any others of her generation inside the eighth pole.
With Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird had little trouble in her first three starts at Santa Anita Park: in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2), Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3), and Santa Anita Oaks (G1). A low-grade fever in April knocked Songbird out of the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), but with careful handling she bounced back for her summer campaign.
A 61/2-length romp in the Summertime Oaks (G2) in mid-June was the right set up for a run on the East Coast, where Songbird crushed her rivals in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Belmont Park, the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course, and Parx Racing’s Cotillion Stakes (G1).
Bloodstock agent Tom McGreevy, who has picked out many stars for Fox Hill owner Rick Porter, including 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, paid $400,000 for the John Antonelli-bred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro —Ivanavinalot, by West Acre, at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale.
“She’s the best horse I’ve bought, in a rout,” he told BloodHorse last summer. “You just run out of words to use for her. It really brings a tear to your eye. I don’t know what else you can say.”