05/05/2017 2:44PM

Bird Song proves himself at two turns in Alysheba

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Kelsey Danner
Bird Song, ridden by Julien Leparoux, holds off Honorable Duty to win the Alysheba Stakes on Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Fourteen years after Bird Town won the fastest Kentucky Oaks in history, her son Bird Song pulled off a mild upset on Kentucky Oaks Day, scoring a 1 1/2-length front-running victory in Friday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Alysheba Stakes over a sloppy Churchill Downs strip.

Bird Town, sent off at 6-1, won in front of his owner-breeder, Marylou Whitney, the Saratoga socialite who braved the rain and cold to make it to the winner’s circle.

“It’s been a long time since I won a really good race here,” said Whitney, accompanied by her husband, John Hendrickson. Whitney then praised her trainer, Ian Wilkes, saying, “Ian did a great job with this horse.”

Bird Song, a son of Unbridled’s Song, appeared to be a one-turn specialist. His four previous victories came in races run around one turn, including a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper in March at Gulfstream Park.

Bird Song attempted two turns for the first time in the Ben Ali at Keeneland, stalking the pace before making the lead in midstretch. He was eventually run down by Watershed and Eagle while finishing third.

That race was at 1 1/8 miles. The Alysheba was at 1 1/16 miles.

On a rain-soaked, sloppy surface that had been favoring front-running types, Bird Song, breaking from the rail under Julien Leparoux, was able to secure the lead entering the first turn. He opened up a 1 1/2-length lead through an opening quarter of 23.23 seconds, and maintained that advantage through a half-mile in 46.78 and six furlongs in 1:11.

Bird Song appeared to still be going easily turning for home while Rafael Bejarano, on 3-2 favorite American Freedom, and James Graham, on Honorable Duty, were really getting after their horses.

Bird Song drifted slightly late in the stretch, but he had more than enough to hold on for the victory. Bird Song covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.34 and returned $15.20 to win. Honorable Duty finished second, with International Star third.

“He’s got such a high cruising speed he takes it way from them, and that really helps him,” Wilkes said.

Leparoux said he was surprised he was able to get the lead as easily as he did.

“I was probably expecting to be second or third, but I was very happy to be by myself and relaxed,” Leparoux said. “The speed carried me to the wire.”

Wilkes said he was confident Bird Song could get two turns and plans to run him in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at 1 1/8 miles on June 17.

“I think he’s still figuring it out how to do it,” Wilkes said. “He’s probably not a mile-and-a-quarter horse, but I think he can get a mile and an eighth.”

If he does get that distance in the Stephen Foster, one would have to think Bird Song would be a candidate for the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 5.

Bird Town’s final time of 1:48.64 for 1 1/8 miles in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks remains a stakes record.