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Songbird Faces Unclear Scenario in Coaching Club American Oaks

Songbird Faces Unclear Scenario in Coaching Club American Oaks by Reinier Macatangay: Short fields are not immune to speed duels, and while the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course only features five 3-year-old fillies, a modest to quick pace is possible. The field will run a distance of 1 1/18 miles, which is new for Fox Hill Farms’ Songbird and top challenger Carina Mia.

Songbird Saratoga

Undefeated champion Songbird arrived at Saratoga Race Course Wednesday evening shortly before 8 p.m. in advance of her upcoming engagement in Sunday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.
Photo: Coglianese/NYRA

Few handicappers doubt the early leader will be Songbird, who brings an undefeated 8 for 8 record to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and makes her first start on the east coast for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

But, from the rail Songbird under regular rider Mike Smith could face early pressure from Carina Mia, who breaks right next to her in the second post position. In fact, Carina Mia may need to pressure Songbird to hold any chance of victory, but the consequences of an aggressive strategy are evident from past history.

Remember back in the 2010 Personal Ensign Stakes (GI), when Life at Ten and Rachel Alexandra squared off in an epic early duel? The video is still on YouTube. Despite the lack of other fillies and mares, the two headliners blitzed through the opening quarter of the 10-furlong race, and Life at Ten was subsequently crushed.

Rachel Alexandra put Life at Ten away, but the initial battle softened the reigning 3-year-old filly champion for a decent closer, and from behind Persistently inched her way up and slowly won the race.

The same scenario might happen this weekend, if Carina Mia’s jockey Julien Leparoux does not wish to let Songbird coast along an uncontested lead, which is difficult to overcome for most horses.

If Leparoux leaves Songbird alone, Songbird will win. So either Leparoux plays for second, or aggressively goes for the whole pot while leaving his mount or Songbird vulnerable to a decent closer, in this case Weep No More.

Yes, Weep No More, who won the Ashland Stakes (GI) at Keeneland a few months ago, is not as talented as the top two contenders but can play the role of Persistently and grind her way to victory late.

Alternatively, maybe Flora Dora or Mo D’Amour commit pace suicide and apply the pressure on Songbird, while Carina Mia and Weep No More strike at the right moment. This scenario would help Carina Mia a great deal.

The above strategy talk may not matter though, as it is possible Songbird is talented enough to make any pace scenario irrrelevant. After all, if Songbird is a special filly destined to become one of the great horses found in the Racing Hall of Fame, a fast tempo will not stop her from proving victorious. The great ones overcome adversity.

For what it is worth, Rick Porter, owner of Fox Hill Farms, indicated on Saratoga’s latest press release that Songbird worked superbly on July 17 at Del Mar:

“Mike never sat down on her, he let her do the work the way she wanted to do it and it looks like she’s just floating in an open gallop, and then those times come up, it’s just shocking. She had the bullet time for the three-eighths, five-eighths, three-quarters and the seven-eighths, which was a gallop-out.”

Officially, Songbird’s final time for the six-furlong spin was 1:11.40 and ended up as the quickest work out of 19 horses at the distance. Win or lose, she has arrived at Saratoga physically prepared and will put on a show.

If bettors are concerned whether Carina Mia is able to fire at nine furlongs, trainer Bill Mott offered little clues.

“She’s run 1 1/16 miles in a two-turn race; it wouldn’t be impossible for her, so we’ve got to try,” Mott said.

He sounds unsure to say the least.

“We’re here [at Saratoga] and it’s a very important Grade 1 race and we want to find out.”

Supporters will need to hope Carina Mia finds the extra distance suitable, in addition to working out a good trip.

Meanwhile, Weep No More’s second dam Flute won the 2001 Kentucky Oaks (GI) and Alabama Stakes (GI). In addition, her grandsire is the superb stamina influence A.P. Indy. Backers will be assured this one will run long.

If Songbird wins, she will improve her record to 9 for 9 and run into the hearts of remaining disbelievers, if any still exist. Carina Mia and Weep No More should make Songbird sweat a little bit though, and if one of those two fillies pulls off the victory this weekend, well then hopefully Songbird’s loss will not overshadow the upset too much.

Coaching Club American Oaks 2016 Post Positions & Odds
Race 10 6:18p.m. ET
1 Songbird Smith/Hollendorfer
2 Carina Mia Leparoux/Mott
3 Flora Dora Esquivel/Coffey
4 Weep No More Castellano/Arnold, II
5 Mo d’Amour Velazquez/Pletcher
*Odds updated upon release.