Santa Ysabel and Gotham Review

Songbird Romps… Again

Songbird establishes a clearly early lead en route to an easy victory in the Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita Park Saturday

Songbird establishes a clearly early lead en route to an easy victory in the Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Every now and again a horse turns in a performance that makes one’s hair stand on end.


Tears of emotion.

A performance that seems to make everything wrong in the world right again, even if it’s just for a little while. All of our favorite things wrapped up in one stunning achievement.

She doesn’t know it — nor will she ever — but, on Saturday, Rick Porter’s undefeated champion filly Songbird made us all forget about the world around us for a little bit by simply capturing the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita in what arguably can be considered her best career effort.

Like the song she was named after says, “For you, the sun will be shining.”

And on a rare gray Southern California day, the sun did just that on her fans, but most especially on Songbird, who is easily the leader of the three-year-old filly division and quite possibly the best horse training in North America. When all was said and done there weren’t any discussions of a rivalry, or who could beat her or who she may face in her future. It was all about the here and now and, as racing devotees, we all appreciated it.

“To you, I’ll give the world.” And with every ounce of her and with every deliberate stride, that’s exactly what she did.

It was a textbook performance for the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, breaking from the gate like a rocket, effortlessly establishing her comfortable spot on the front end, leading the way through quick early fractions of :23.20 and :46.02 for the first half-mile before kicking clear and gearing down past three-quarters in 1:09.98 and galloping home in 1:43.02 for the 1 1/16 miles over a fast main track. She went so comfortably that jockey Mike Smith wanted a glimpse of what the crowd was cheering for, looking over to his left at the Jumbotron in the stretch to see what everyone else was witnessing.

“It was incredible,” Smith said. “I got a bit star-struck when I looked over at the big screen to see if I needed to do a little bit of work and I was just in awe of how easily she was doing things again. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off the big screen. I told myself, ‘I better get back to it and stay on.’ She was really on her game.”

And with the winner’s share of the Santa Ysabel purse, Songbird upped her bankroll to $1,742,000 from her perfect six-for-six record. She also won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), the Del Mar Debutante (G1), Chandelier Stakes (G1) and this year’s Las Virgenes Stakes (GI).

Once again, Land Over Sea was closest to her, crossing the wire 3 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Mokat was another 1 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up in third. Six other talented fillies that would otherwise be representing the best of their crop without the presence of Songbird rounded out the order of finish.

Already withdrawn from any consideration for the Kentucky Derby (GI) in nine weeks, Songbird likely will race next in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) on April 9 before making the gate for the Kentucky Oaks on May 6. Songbird hasn’t even been nominated to the Triple Crown. She wasn’t expected to race in Saturday’s race either, but trainer Jerry Hollendorfer believed she needed to race rather than work in to the Santa Anita Oaks.

“I’m very grateful to have this filly,” Hollendorfer said. “I’m very grateful for [owner] Rick Porter and all the people who work with him.

“The Santa Anita Oaks would be next and if she looks real good, we’ll try to think about Kentucky. I don’t like to think too far ahead but that’s our long-term goal. The intermediate [races] are what we’ve been doing.”

Predictably, Songbird went off as the prohibitive favorite at odds of less than 1-9 and returned $2.10 across the board. There was a minus place pool on the race of $4,900.37 and a minus show pool of $158,462.66.

“And the songbirds keep singing, like they know the score.”

And we love you, we love you, we love you. Like never before.

Shagaf Remains Undefeated in Gotham

Shagaf wears down Laoban to get up at the wire in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Shagaf (2) wears down Laoban (1) to get up at the wire in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Way across the country in New York, a group of seven three-year-old colts also with Kentucky dreams raced 1 1/16 miles over Aqueduct’s inner dirt course in the $400,000 Gotham Stakes. Under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr, Shadwell Stable’s homebred Shagaf stalked the early pace and emerged the winner by 1 1/4 lengths after a gritty stretch run as the 6-5 betting favorite.

The winner was worth $4.50, $3.60 and $2.90 at odds of 6-5, keying a $46.60 exacta completed by longshot Laoban. He was another three-quarters of a length in front of Adventist. Laoban paid $10.80 and $5.10, while Adventist was good for $3.60 at nearly 5-1 odds. The trifecta paid $186.

The final time for the race, which was worth 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, was 1:45.90. Though the final time was more than three seconds off of the stakes record of 1:42.65 set by I Want Revenge in 2009, the outcome could be considered deceiving as the winner closed from well off the pace on a track that favored front-running types all afternoon. All but one race on the day was won in gate-to-wire fashion and the other was won by a runner sitting right behind the speed in the early going.

Shagaf is trained by Chad Brown and the colt remains undefeated after his maiden, allowance and Gotham score. The conditioner said Shagaf will next head to the Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) on April 9. He had been wintering in South Florida with the rest of Brown’s stable, but will now stay in New York and prep for his next stop along the Triple Crown trail.

“I’m very proud of his effort today,” Brown said. “Coming into the race it was our plan was to be able to teach him something and possibly still win the race which it was what we were trying to do. The horse broke so sharp and Irad told me he had to take a hold of him to see what everyone else was going to do. He put him in a good spot. He was little on and off the bridle down the back side catching that dirt for the first time, but once he got in the clear he was much more comfortable getting away from the kickback. The fact he can secure a spot early with his positional speed for a big horse is going to come in handy later on.”

Shagaf earned $240,000 for his first career stakes score and now boasts earnings of $298,800.