03/04/2017 3:01PM

Bird Song hits high note in Fred W. Hooper Stakes

Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photos
Bird Song, under Julien Leparoux, wins the Fred Hooper by 1 1/4 lengths.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Marylou Whitney was able to be here for the race, which made it a great day already for trainer Ian Wilkes.

Bird Song, carrying the famed eton blue and brown Whitney silks, made it an even better afternoon by rolling to victory Saturday in the 32nd running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Fred. W. Hooper at Gulfstream Park.

Whitney, accompanied by husband John Hendrickson, took part in the winner’s-circle ceremonies after Bird Song and jockey Julien Leparoux seized command midway through the one-mile Hooper to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over Realm. Volumes have been written about the Whitney legacy in Thoroughbred racing, and folks even with a passing knowledge of racing history can appreciate the enduring presence of Marylou Whitney – breeder, owner, philanthropist, socialite – at age 91.

“She’s such a special person that’s it hard to put into words,” Wilkes said. “She’s a true legend in the game. It’s an honor to win a race like this for her.”

Bred and owned by Whitney Stables, Bird Song was always on the pace when notching the first stakes victory of his nine-race career. The 4-year-old colt returned $8.20 as the second choice in a field of eight after finishing in 1:36.07 over a fast track.

Realm finished another three-quarters of a length ahead of his Barclay Tagg stablemate, Tale of S’avall, while Greenpointcrusader, the 2-1 favorite, labored home seventh.

:: Enjoy news and analysis from DRF? Get handicapping analysis, real-time coverage, special reports, and charts. Unlock access with DRF Plus.

Bird Song had physical issues as a young horse when trained by Nick Zito, but “he came around real quickly for me” last spring at Churchill Downs, said Wilkes, referring to back-to-back wins in a June maiden race at Churchill and a July allowance at Saratoga. A son of the late Unbridled’s Song and Whitney’s 2003 Kentucky Oaks winner, Bird Town, he now has four wins and two seconds from nine starts and earnings of $228,607.

“Nick was always upfront about him and said he could run,” said Wilkes. “It’s great to win a graded stakes with him.”

Wilkes said the Ben Ali at Keeneland or the Alysheba at Churchill are possibilities for a next race for Bird Song. “I’d like to keep him going long,” he said. “We’ll figure what works best.”

The $2 exacta (4-3) paid $33, the $1 trifecta (4-3-5) returned $96.90, and the 10-cent superfecta (4-3-5-6) was worth $74.77.