Remember the days when people complained about the quality of the filly and mare divisions? Well, they can complain no more as both the sophomore ladies and the upperclassmen are as strong as we have seen in the last few years; led by two stand-outs in particular: Songbird and Unique Bella.
Unique Bella, the Pennsylvania bred that was purchased for $400,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September Sale out of the Eaton Sales consignment has turned out to be a shooting star for her owner, Don Alberto Stable; a rare find that has turned into something priceless.
The 3-year-old filly by America’s leading sire Tapit has been untouchable in her most recent starts; a fact that was whole-heartedly endorsed by Mike Smith. Smith, who has a fantastic streak with the ladies, commented that in the Las Virgenes (GII), she had settled so well, he could have taken her even farther back than she had already been in her two-turn debut that, in the end, looked like a glorified workout.
The way she settled, I could have taken her even farther back,” Smith said. “At some point you have to let them be who they are—let them do what they’re good at. I just let her do what she wanted to do and she picked it up, and was well within herself. –BloodHorse Story
After watching the video, it’s hard to find someone in her class that could beat her, as the filly that finished third was the previous 2-year-old Eclipse Award winner Champagne Room and Unique Bella made her look average. She was the only one geared down toward the end and finished the race with no urging from Smith. If there is a challenger, they better set up quick and step up now or the year may truly end up being one for the greys.
The Kentucky Oaks is a given on paper for her but Don Alberto has expressed the willingness to consider her for the Derby as they progressed closer to the big day. As things are going now for the sophomore males, they might have a hard time catching this grey filly if she makes it into the gate on the First Saturday in May.
When Beholder retired, the unanimous thought among the racing community was that the torch for the older mares had been passed to as fine a successor as anyone could have hoped to find. Songbird has been waving the “Girl Power” flag since last year and if history has been any thing but a window into precedence, America loves a wonder filly. From Azeri to Ginger Punch to Rachel Alexandra to Zenyatta; America is quick -and often extremely enthusiastic- to embrace the next great Monarch in the Sport of Kings. Songbird has been handed the torch and the crown, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be taken away.
However, if someone wants that top seat and that crown, they’ll have to take it the hard way. As we witnessed in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro doesn’t just lie down and give up when another horse looks her in the eye. She fought Beholder tooth and nail down to the wire and lost by a margin that could have gone either way had her tongue flopped forward at the right time. The margin was that small. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself.
That performance led her to be the unanimous choice for Champion 3-year-old filly for Fox Hill Farm owner, Rick Porter; a man who is no stranger to owning greatness, as his list of stars includes such revered names as Havre De Grace (the 2011 Horse of the Year) and Eight Belles, the ill-fated wonder filly that finished second to Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby before breaking down passed the wire.
Songbird returned to California from her vacation at Winstar on January 23rd, and only time will tell how she has progressed from the refresher. But if this report from the Bloodhorse suggests anything, Songbird definitely has had the best team to help her move forward and keep her crown.
Two interesting things that the two horses have in common: their trainer and their rider. If the owners of both horses decide to point toward the same race, the decision made by Mike Smith as to whom he will ride will be very telling; almost as much as how the trainer will respond to questions about the two facing off. Either way, this is going to be an interesting year, and it won’t solely be focused around the Triple Crown. We still have a lot of 2017 left but what a year this could be.