The good news and bad news out of Saturday’s Ogden Phipps is pretty simple and basically the same.
The good news for the connections of Songbird is she got it done despite probably not being completely fit but with few visible signs of rust. The bad news for the connections of her opposition is that she got it done despite not being completely fit, along with the fact they’ll now face an even smarter Songbird in 2017.
Mike Smith, who rode the 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro to a 1-length victory over Paid Up Subscriber in the Grade 1 Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard, said as much about the latter notion after celebrating with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and representatives of the filly’s owner Rick Porter.
“She’s so much smarter,” Smith said when asked if he noticed anything different about the once-beaten filly following her 12th victory in 13 starts. “This is probably one of the most intelligent horses, I’m tell you. You could ride her with your finger.”
Smith didn’t ride Songbird with just his finger Saturday but he definitely rode her with confidence.
Off the rail up the long Belmont backstretch in the early stages of the 1 1/16-mile Phipps, Smith stayed quiet on Songbird around the turn as Javier Castellano and Paid Up Subscriber made a bold move along the inside to challenge.
Paid Up Subscriber took a narrow lead inside the three-eighths pole before Songbird retook the lead as the field hit the top of the stretch. Smith shook the reins a few times near the eighth pole as Castellano stayed slightly more busy on Paid Up Subscriber approaching the final sixteenth. Smith never turned over his whip and, with head down, hand rode to the finish to win in 1:42.24.
So, was there ever an anxious moment?
“Not really,” Smith said, before pausing. “You say not really but yes, you know horse racing, they can all get beat. I saw the great Secretariat get beat. So that part you always worries but as far as physically, mentally, she was fine for this. She was ready and she did it.”
Hollendorfer was obviously pleased with the result, knowing it’s a long way to the Breeders’ Cup in early November and a one-turn stakes against just six opponents was just one step on the path to that goal.
“Let’s call it a great race off the layoff,” he said. “I’m not saying she’s at the top of her game right now but she certainly did very well today.”
What awaits Songbird and her next wave of opponents might be anyone’s guess.
Lured east by the $750,000 purse of the Phipps that is part of the rich Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, Hollendorfer threw out the possibility of more trips to New York and the Mid-Atlantic. Songbird raced three times there last summer, winning the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga and the Cotillion at Parx.
“There might be some kind of chance she could be there sometime in the summer, but don’t forget we have the Breeders’ Cup on the West Coast this year so that’s an important consideration,” Hollendorfer said. “We talked a little bit about running at Delaware but I’m not real sure about that. We’re going to talk some more about that.”
A trip to Delaware might be appealing for Porter, who continues to battle cancer and calls Delaware Park his home track. The Grade 1 Delaware Handicap is July 15 and a trip back to Saratoga would most likely be for the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on the Travers undercard Aug. 26. The Personal Ensign is the lone Grade 1 on the Saratoga calendar going two turns for older females.