Songbird a potential wildcard for 2016 Kentucky Derby

Nov 07, 2015 Vance Hanson

As the 2015 racing season winds down, the most exciting two-year-old in the country is arguably the filly Songbird, who was faster than Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Nyquist not only in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) but also in the Chandelier (G1) on the same day he won the FrontRunner (G1).

Nyquist perhaps is not the flashiest two-year-old male champion to come along of late, but he is the yardstick by which all the other colts and geldings in the crop are measured right now. With that being the case, Songbird must be considered a serious threat for next year's Kentucky Derby (G1).

Of course, the question is will her connections pursue next year's first leg of the Triple Crown or stay conservative and keep Songbird among her own sex. There are plusses and minuses to both options, but here's my take at this very early stage.

With superior Speed Ratings than the nation's best colt and with an average margin of victory of 5 1/2 lengths in her four starts, Songbird has virtually run out of competition in her own division. That could easily change next spring when some of her peers begin to catch up in ability, and I wouldn't recommend Songbird's connections throw her immediately into an open stakes to start her three-year-old campaign. But if she comes back anywhere close to the form she displayed this year, or if she shows noticeable improvement in her first start or two, then a more ambitious schedule should be seriously considered.

The connections of Songbird have been around the upper echelons of the sport for quite some time, and based on past experience the odds they will be sporting enough to give Songbird a shot against males seem good. Owner Rick Porter (Fox Hill Farm) campaigned 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, who defeated males in the Woodward (G1) and finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Several years earlier, Porter raced two Kentucky Derby runners-up, the colt Hard Spun (2007) and the filly Eight Belles (2008).

Given the tragedy that befell Eight Belles as she pulled up following the 2008 Derby, the thought of Porter allowing Songbird to potentially pursue the Run for the Roses is sure to attract scrutiny from some quarters, in particular from those outside the industry. It will be up to Porter to decide whether he would want to deal with that or not. If the filly's form suggests she belongs in the Derby discussion, though, the outcome of that freak incident should not by itself be a deterrent to trying Songbird against the best of her generation.

Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) three times, but never the Derby. He ran 1991 Oaks winner Lite Light against males in the Super Derby (G1) later that season, but by then she was over the top from a form perspective. In 1996, Pike Place Dancer preceded her Oaks victory with a turf score against males in the California Derby (G3). Blind Luck (2010), Hollendorfer's best Oaks winner, never faced males.

The last two fillies to win the Kentucky Derby, Winning Colors (1988) and Genuine Risk (1980), faced males for the first time in their final Derby preps. Winning Colors won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in convincing fashion, while Genuine Risk ran third in the Wood Memorial (G1). Other filly Derby starters in intervening years did not always face males beforehand, but with the introduction of the 'Road to the Kentucky Derby' points system in 2013 it has become almost mandatory for fillies to do so.

Another thing that makes Songbird an attractive Derby proposition is that she's a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, who sired that famous shatterer of glass ceilings Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Preakness (G1) winner and Horse of the Year.

It's still way early in the process, but the possibility that Songbird could join the fray raises the level of excitement for Kentucky Derby 143. Racing fans in California or Arkansas should not be surprised if one or more of their Derby preps are infused with a dash of feminine flair.

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