09/22/2016 2:00PM

Hovdey: Smith's fillies always looking out for No. 1

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It’s getting a little ridiculous, these fillies and mares ridden by Mike Smith who are so reluctant to lose.

At one point in her Hall of Fame career, Sky Beauty reeled off 10 wins in 11 starts under Smith, all in graded stakes. Inside Information went 14 for 17 over three seasons with Smith as her only rider. Azeri won 13 of her first 14 races with Smith, and then there was Zenyatta, who reeled off 16 straight for Smith, who always liked to think he was just along for the ride.

Now comes Songbird, with 10 wins in her first 10 starts. Smith has been on board from the beginning, the day they broke from the inside post in a six-furlong maiden race at Del Mar and won by 6 1/2 lengths.

On Saturday, 14 months down the road from that maiden score, Smith and Songbird find themselves at Parx – or Philadelphia Park, or Keystone, depending on your generation – ready and willing to put perfection on the line once again in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes.

At this point, Songbird is beginning to defy comparison. Or, at least, it takes a little digging to come up with historical precedent. Sticking strictly to fillies, there have been few who dared to breathe similar air.

Calumet Farm’s Bewitch won her first nine starts and would have made it 10 had they not run her against stablemate Citation in the 1947 Futurity Stakes at Belmont. She finished third.

Idun, the champion 2-year-old filly of 1957, won her first race on a disqualification and her next eight on the square before a baffling allowance race loss in May 1958.

Primonetta stretched her unbeaten 2-year-old season of 1960 well into 1961 with nine straight wins before finally losing, by just a neck, in the Monmouth Oaks. She came right back to romp in the Alabama.

Moccasin was such a dominant presence during her perfect 2-year-old season of 1965 that two of her eight wins – the Alcibiades and the Selima – were betless exhibitions.

And even though six of her 12 straight wins at the beginning of her career took place in her native Canada, no one doubted that La Prevoyante was by far the finest filly of her generation.

There have been whispers that Songbird is reminiscent of Ruffian, a filly of universal appeal who won her first 10 races, evenly divided between 2 and 3, before suffering fatal injuries in her match race against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. Let’s not go there.

Instead, we should wish upon Songbird and owner Rick Porter a career that recalls the 13-for-13 record of Personal Ensign, without the ankle injury that cost the remarkable Phipps filly large chunks of her first two seasons.

Smith has had plenty of time this week to contemplate Songbird’s try for No. 11 in the Cotillion. He rode a winner at Los Alamitos last Saturday, and his next mount will be in the Gallant Bob Stakes on the Cotillion/Pennsylvania Derby undercard aboard Who’s Out, Songbird’s stablemate in the Jerry Hollendorfer barn.

“I’ve been working out a lot,” Smith said on Wednesday. “Just staying fit and ready.”

And keeping tabs on Songbird, who arrived at Parx on Tuesday.

“I understand she galloped just fine over the track,” Smith said. “She seems to not have lost any weight, and her color looks great, so now I’ve got to go out there and do my job, make sure she jumps well away from the gate, and give her the opportunity to run her race.”

Songbird’s boilerplate race has become eerily predictable. She will cruise on or near the lead at a galloping gait that expends precious little energy. Smith will tighten the bit slightly on the turn, a signal for Songbird to get serious, and from there, it just depends on who’s got horse enough left to challenge her.

Carina Mia gave Songbird a dose of reality around the turn and into the stretch of the Coaching Club American Oaks before surrendering. She is back on Saturday, as is Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, fresh from a smart win at a mile over the track. Smith was asked if going from the 10-furlong Alabama to the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion will make any difference.

“Not with her,” he said. “She goes at a mile race speed going a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter, so you’d think she’ll enjoy going back to a mile and a sixteenth. It’s not like she’s ever getting away with a 25 quarter or a 49 half. She just goes fast because she likes to go fast.

“It’s like that country song ‘Crazy,’ ” Smith said. “You can say that about everything about her – her stamina, her speed, her mechanics.”

Songbird nearly always appears to be the speed of the speed. Could that ever be a problem?

“Most times, you do worry about going too quick early,” Smith said. “With her, I don’t. However fast she’s going, if she’s happy, it doesn’t really matter.”

Still, there must be some chink in her armor that gives Smith an occasional sleepless pre-race night.

“If she does what she’s been doing, I don’t really see anything,” he said. “That’s the thing about talented horses – they don’t have just one thing they’re good at.

“I’ve done a good job of just staying out of her way so far,” Smith added. “I’ll just try to do more of the same on Saturday.”

Mary McLeod 6 months ago
Bon chance, Mike. She soars, just like one of Eva Cassidy's songs. I am very happy Mr. Porter saved this name for this special filly. I will be cheering in NC for Songbird, you, Mr. Porter, Jerry, her connections, and ALL her fans. Thank you for this excellent essay, Jay, and you are absolutely correct 15 paragraphs above. High hooves and three whinnies to each of you, Mary in Boone
Frank 6 months ago
You are a lucky (and talent) jockey Mike -- good man!

I finally have forgiven you for jumping of Prairie Bayou in that fateful tragic Belmont -- I loved that horse.
Judy Gaddis 6 months ago
You gotta admit Mikey has "a way with the girls".  Even with the stiff competition of Carina Mia and Cathryn Sophia in the Cotillion, I don't see any reason that Sunday morning Songbird isn't going to remain undefeated.  Yes, even the great ones get beaten, but I don't think Saturday will be that day for Songbird.  She. Is. Special.