07/24/2016 7:59PM

Songbird gets stiff challenge, remains unbeaten in Coaching Club American Oaks

Barbara D. Livingston
Songbird draws clear under Mike Smith to win the Coaching Club American Oaks by 5 1/4 lengths.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks was playing out just as most people thought it would. The visiting Songbird, with the target of a champion on her back, was being stalked intently by Carina Mia, the challenger playing in her backyard at steamy Saratoga.

Approaching the quarter pole of the 1 1/8-mile event, Carina Mia and jockey Julien Leparoux were at the throatlatch of Songbird and Mike Smith.

Rick Porter, the owner of Songbird, was standing in his box seat area near the finish line.

“I got a little nervous,” Porter admitted.

The nerves didn’t last long. Smith asked Songbird for more than he ever had to before and the filly responded, running away from Carina Mia and drawing off to a 5 1/4-length victory in the Coaching Club, keeping her unbeaten in nine starts. Carina Mia was second by four lengths over Flora Dora. Mo d’Amour and Weep No More completed the order of finish.

“I knew at some point Carina Mia was going to give her a serious test, an acid test, and she did,” Smith said. “She made her do something she’s never had to do before; we’ll see what happens. A lot of times, a true champion, this will move them up because it’s the first time somebody got inside her gut. If that happens, oh my.”

Songbird had been dominant winning her first eight starts by a combined 42 1/2 lengths. With the exception of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Songbird had faced modest competition.

In Carina Mia, winner of the Grade 2 Eight Belles and Grade 1 Acorn in her last two starts, Songbird was meeting the best filly she had ever faced.

“I could agree with that,” Jerry Hollendorder, the trainer of Songbird said.

Songbird had the rail and was the speed of the Coaching Club American Oaks, whose purse was raised by the New York Racing Association to $500,000 from $300,000 to attract Songbird here. Carina Mia was the stalker and had post 2.

Songbird jumped sharply out of the gate and Smith, understanding the rail was the deepest part of the track, moved Songbird a bit off the rail in the early stages of the race and moved to the three- or four-path down the backside.

Songbird maintained a length to 1 1/2-length advantage over Carina Mia through fractions of 23.86 seconds for the quarter-mile, 47.52 for the half, and 1:11.63 for six furlongs.

Entering the far turn, Leparoux sent Carina Mia after Songbird, who had wandered back to the inside. At the quarter pole, the two were on equal terms.

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In upper stretch, Smith went to a left-handed whip, smacked Songbird a few times and she responded, drawing away from Carina Mia in the final three-sixteenths.

Songbird, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro who sold for $400,000 as a yearling across the street at the Fasig-Tipton auction in 2014, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.56 and returned $2.60 as the 1-5 favorite.

“I’m very grateful to win with her,” Hollendorfer said. “She does it easy, you always wonder if they’re going to keep doing it, but she keeps doing it.”

The vanquished were proud, albeit somewhat disappointed as they thought they were primed to pull an upset.

“At the quarter pole I thought I could actually win the race,” Leparoux said. “But she just re-broke.”

Said Bill Mott, Carina Mia’s trainer: “I thought maybe we had her. We didn’t.”

Songbird will stay in Saratoga and point to  the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama here on Aug. 20.