Sunday, February 7, 2016

Looking Forward: Songbird Soars Above Her Competition


Songbird's Star Shines Bright

Racegoers are often quick to label a horse a "star". One impressive win and a horse finds themselves being compared to all-time greats like Citation and Affirmed ... or those who Twitter folk deem "great", like Zenyatta and Smarty Jones, but that's a different story for a different day.

All eyes were on sunny Southern California over the weekend, with the main attraction being Fox Hill Farm's undefeated daughter of Medaglia d'Oro: Songbird.

Songbird's biggest weapon is her high cruising speed, and while on paper this race appeared to include horses with some early speed, they ultimately proved to be no match for her early foot. Not only did she easily cross over from gate six, but she enjoyed an uncontested lead throughout and pounded them into submission late, winning by six and a half lengths on the bridle.


Songbird is the daughter of Ivanavinalot, a pretty fast mare in her own right. A wire-to-wire winner of four races as a two-year-old, Ivanavinalot was precocious and nearly unbeatable in her prime when left alone on the lead. Her daughter clearly possesses some of the same traits, and it begs asking, is any three-year-old filly fast enough to pressure Songbird early? At this point, I don't think so.

This is why Songbird should steer far clear of the Kentucky Derby. Sure, it is sporting for connections to challenge their best horses to achieve new levels of greatness, but they should also do so while playing to the strengths of their horses.

First of all, nobody can blame Songbird's owner -- Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms -- for not wanting to send his filly out to run against the boys. He did own Eight Belles, after all, and one can imagine her untimely death following her outstanding second to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby would leave a scar, Unfortunately, freak injuries in-running are a real aspect of this sport, as with any, and if something did happen to Songbird, it would be a public relations nightmare for Porter and his team.

While one could easily argue, at least at this stage, that Songbird would be the most talented Kentucky Derby hopeful, remember that her weapon is her early speed. A full-field Kentucky Derby is one of the least likely spots a horse will find an uncontested lead. With 20 horses in the field, any sort of speed drawn to the inside or far outside would be sent to the lead, as would one or two no-hopers whose connections are simply eager to hear his name called. It happens every year. That's not to say they'd necessarily go fast on the front-end, but a contested lead is almost a certainty.

On top of that, Songbird of course has zero Kentucky Derby points, so she'd have to run in a prep against the boys -- which was not the original plan -- and finish on the board to even think of running in the race to begin with.

Changing a horse's plans when targeting a long-term goal rarely works out -- and to do so in order to run in the one race you are almost guaranteed will not be run to suit? Pass.

As Twitter folk would say, "Songbird is the best filly we've seen since Zenyatta!" All jokes aside, Songbird -- unlike Zenyatta -- has the Kentucky Oaks square in her sights. Whether those runs against the boys come remains to be seen, but no matter what happens, the Kentucky Derby isn't the place to run.


Mshawish Wins The Battle, But Will He Win The War?

Aside from Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps, the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park was a de facto prep for the Dubai World Cup, to be run next month at Meydan.

Mshawish has been somewhat of a revelation over dirt in recent times, winning both the G3 Hal's Hope and G1 Donn back-to-back, putting himself on the shortlist of individuals of dual surface G1 winners (AW not included). 


A winner in France, Dubai and America, it's been a long road with many frequent flier miles for this honest son of Medaglia d'Oro. Foot issues ensured his best was not seen in last year's Dubai Turf, finishing a distant third behind Solow. But reborn with the surface switch, he appears set for the Dubai World Cup this time around, despite having failed in his only attempt over further than nine furlongs.

While his aptitude for a truly run 10 furlongs is a query, he figures to at least have a pace impact on the race. Mshawish is the type who is best positioned handy and while he doesn't have the early speed of California Chrome or Frosted, it wouldn't be unusual for him to slot in behind those two. Add in the presence of stone cold frontrunner Hokko Tarumae and potentially Effinex and this race has the potential for a FAST pace. Last year, they went quick early, resulting in a complete meltdown, and a similar scenario this year would almost certainly take Mshawish out of the equation unless a drastic change of tactics were employed.

Nevertheless, Mshawish's accomplishments on dirt are admirable in a day and age when surface switches are not seen nearly as often as they once were. However unlikely it may be that this will turn into a $10 million success, this is an accomplishment which should be celebrated.

Newcomers Making Their Presence Felt In Hong Kong

One of the quirks of Hong Kong racing is how difficult it is for local first time starters to win on debut. Whether it be adjusting to new surroundings for previously raced imports or handling the fanfare on race day for debutants, racing at both Sha Tin and Happy Valley provides their own set of challenges for even the most experienced veterans.

In the past week, however, we saw three newbies win in scintillating fashion.

While the cliche is best saved for last, the best was first up this time around. John Size's Mr Stunning handled the tight Happy Valley course like a pro before displaying an outstanding turn of foot over 1,000m when unleashing a 22.17 final 400m -- over a half second faster than anyone else in the field. It is a notoriously difficult course and distance for debutants and while Mr Stunning had lived up to his name in barrier trials, his ability to hold up and finish with that sort of a closing kick was unfounded to that point, leaving Twitter in an excitable state.







While we're on the topic of Mr Stunning, Racing Supernova -- known as Axanite in Australia -- proved the strength of the horse's trial form on Saturday. Racing Supernova had finished a strong second to Mr Stunning in a barrier trial back in December, with both gapping their rivals by nine lengths. A winner at both Gosford and Kembla Grange, Racing Supernova didn't arrive in Hong Kong with the stellar credentials of some others imported from Down Under, but it didn't matter when he flew home at Sha Tin on Saturday.

Racing Supernova didn't make things easy on himself when he hopped while restrained just after leaving the gate. Aside from making trainer Chris So nervous, the snafu at the start didn't matter, however, and he finished strongly as if to let everyone know he had things under control. A final 400m of 22.10 -- three tenths faster than anyone else in the field -- led to him crushing his competition, including well-regarded second time starter Malmsteen.

A son of Mossman, My Darling rounded out the trio of debutant victories last week when taking out a Class Four by three and a half lengths over the 1,000m straight course at Sha Tin. Drawn relatively well in barrier nine of 14, with the outside draws typically preferred over this course, My Darling cruised home to an easy victory while being one of only two horses in the race to run a sub-23 second final 400m. He was another who had trialed well in the company of Mr Stunning, ironically his stablemate. Add two more newcomers to the ever-growing list of talented youngsters in the John Size yard.

Timing is everything in this sport and My Darling's win came in the nick of time for those who owned his half-sister, the filly going through the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale in Sydney the next day.



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