06/10/2017 2:01PM

Songbird makes triumphant return in Ogden Phipps Stakes

John Bambury
Songbird gives jockey Mike Smith his third stakes win of the day, taking the Ogden Phipps by one length over Paid Up Subscriber.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Songbird is back and as good as ever.

The two-time champion filly made her 2017 debut a winning one by holding off a persistent Paid Up Subscriber before scoring a one-length victory in the Grade 1, $735,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes, her first start since suffering the only loss of her 13-race career against the great Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer seemed relaxed while saddling Songbird and often broke into a smile when he saw a few well-wishers, but as the race neared, he grew quiet as he stood in the tunnel leading from the paddock to the track, watching the race on a television monitor.

As the field was about to load, he said, “She really settled good,” but Hollendorfer never let out a peep during the race. When Paid Up Subscriber pulled nearly even with Songbird at midstretch, Hollendorfer began to lean, and it grew more exaggerated as the wire neared, and when Songbird came home first, Hollendorfer didn’t say a word, just flashed a thumb’s-up sign.

“You’re grateful when they win off a layoff. What more could you ask for?” Hollendorfer said while waiting for Songbird to gallop back to the winner’s circle, where she received an appreciative roar from the crowd.

“It was a great race off a layoff,” added Hollendorfer, who said he didn’t think Songbird was “at the top of her game” just yet.

She was ready enough though. Songbird ($2.70) popped the gate as if fleeing the scene of a crime and quickly opened up a 1 1/2-length lead down the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile race.

“She jumped extremely well,” winning jockey Mike Smith said. “She’s so good out of the gate.”

Smith purposely kept Songbird off the rail through fractions of 23.99 seconds for the quarter and 47.27 for the half, then Paid Up Subscriber moved to vie for the lead after six furlongs in 1:11.25. Smith sat chilly though, and through the lane, Songbird got the best of Paid Up Subscriber.

“She got a little tired late, but she was supposed to,” Smith said. “Believe me, she’s one of the most intelligent horses I’ve ever sat on.”

Highway Star was another 2 1/2 lengths behind Paid Up Subscriber in third, then came Carina Mia, Verve’s Tail, Factory of Faith, and Bar of Gold.

Songbird was timed in 1:42.24 on the fast main track.

“That was a big ride by Mike,” Hollendorfer said of Smith, who won three of the first four stakes on the card. “He never went after the stick. Mike’s in a groove today. He had the race timed just perfectly.”

Songbird, 4, is a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro. The $400,000 winner’s share increased her career earnings to more than $4.1 million for the Fox Hill Farms of Rick Porter.

Hollendorfer said he would talk with Porter, who is ill and could not attend the race, about upcoming spots for Songbird, but Porter’s home track is Delaware Park, and the Grade 1, $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 15 looms. If Songbird stays at her home base of California, the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar on July 30 would be next out there.

Songbird has already won two Eclipse Awards and now will set about trying to make it three in a row.

“Big time,” Smith said when asked if she’d improve off the race. “She’s just going to get better.”