July 24, 2017

How the Start of Songbird’s 4-Year-Old Campaign Has Her Poised for Big Things in 2017

We are at a point in Songbird’s career where races not only define where she fits within her division but also historically.

Earlier in the week of her Delaware Handicap triumph, I ranked Songbird sixth among selected main track fillies and mares not because I think she could win a race against those behind her but because I think her talent AND accomplishment—a two-time champion and now multiple Grade 1 winner at 2, 3, & 4—merit high esteem.

Admittedly, Songbird’s one-length victory in the Delaware Handicap over Martini Glass (with Line of Best Fit only 2 more lengths back in third) did not inspire thoughts of world-class greatness, and I can understand people’s trepidation to back her at a short price next-time out based on her current form.

As a fan of the horse who also bets the races it’s a tough spot because objectively it’s hard to take 1- or 2-to-5 on a horse who hasn’t remotely gotten back to her gaudiest numbers or presence in her first two starts, but there are some interesting data points in her past performances that give hope that she can regain that cloak of invincibility:

  1. Her two races at 1 ¼ miles have produced some of her slowest ratings.
    1. The Alabama Stakes was the slowest late pace rating of her career, and the Delaware Handicap was the slowest since the Alabama.
  2. Her first two races as a four-year-old closely match her first two races as a three-year-old.
    1. In all four races she received a 121 Class Rating
    2. All four races were in the 95-99 Speed Rating range
    3. She was post position 5 in all four races

And now for the negative:

  1. In her three-year-old year, the Speed Rating improved 2nd-time out, but it regressed this year. That can be blamed on the 1 ¼ miles, but it’s still not great given she’s a year older.
  2. This was only the 2nd time in her career that she failed to register a triple digit pace rating at any point in a race.
    1. That said, she improved in each of her next two starts.

There’s also the variables within the Delaware Handicap itself to consider:

  1. She gave 9 pounds to her closest pursuer, which is worth about 5-6 lengths at 1 1/4 miles. Winning by open lengths helps dull the criticism of a low number (a la her career-low 91 Brisnet.com Speed Rating in the aforementioned Santa Anita Oaks–a race in which she won by 3 3/4 lengths).
  2. The pace was slow. Normally this benefits front runners, but it was so slow that it helped keep Martini Glass and Line of Best Fit in the race. I am not criticizing the ride, but I do think the dynamics of the race were such that the two immediately behind her could stay relatively close given the weight differential since Songbird never really opened up on them. If you believe that was by design, then there’s more to like going forward. If you think it’s because she’s lost a step, then that’s a big concern going forward–especially at short prices.

From a historical perspective, it’s difficult to envision Songbird usurping those ahead of her since four of the five won in open company and the one who didn’t (Ruffian) never lost a race she finished and was blindingly fast from all accounts. I don’t know what Songbird has in store this year that top Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic victory, Rachel Alexandra’s three-year-old season, Personal Ensign retiring undefeated, and Beholder’s Pacific Classic win and head to head edge on Songbird. Accumulating Grade 1 wins and even championships is nice, but falls short of the history ahead of her.

That leaves her in the company of the others on my list as well as Bayakoa, Go For Wand, Lady’s Secret, Paseana, Serena’s Song. It’s great company, and there’s really no shame to being at the bottom or top of that list. I probably have her closer to the top than others based on my valuing of her accomplishments at 2, 3, & 4, which I consider a higher bar to clear than being good at 4, 5, & 6 (a la Azeri and Zenyatta).

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