02/04/2016 1:56PM

Songbird ready to roll in Las Virgenes

Barbara D. Livingston
Songbird aims to keep her undefeated record intact in Saturday's Grade 2 Las Virgenes.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Expectations are high for Songbird on Saturday at Santa Anita, where the undefeated filly returns for her 3-year-old debut on a blockbuster card with four graded stakes.

“We have the champion, and it’s up to us to keep her the champion,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “I think she’s ready to go.”

Songbird returns in the Grade 2 Las Virgenes, race 5, while three other Saturday stakes also are meaningful. Mor Spirit tries to cement his status as the top 3-year-old racing in California when he meets I Will Score in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis, race 4, at 1 1/16 miles.

The Grade 2 San Antonio is race 7. With Dortmund out of the race, Imperative may have inherited the role of favorite. His main rivals in the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio include Hoppertunity and El Kabeir.

The Grade 2 San Marcos, race 8 at 1 1/4 miles on turf, includes the upstart Hay Dude and the recent upset winner Flamboyant.

Those good horses Saturday play supporting roles to the brilliant Songbird, whose 4-for-4 campaign in 2015 ended with a romping victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Oct. 31 at Keeneland and an Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly.

:: Santa Anita: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Other fillies have emerged since, including two in the Las Virgenes – Street Fancy, the upset winner of the Grade 1 Starlet at Los Alamitos, and Jade Princess, a recent allowance winner. While their trajectory is upward, they have a ways to go to catch Songbird.

“People that say they are going to catch up to [Songbird] this year are not allowing for her to also improve,” Hollendorfer’s assistant Dan Ward said. “She’s tall, and she’s filled out. She can get better, too.”

Songbird’s comeback preparation was uninterrupted, and her jockey, Mike Smith, has been aboard for most of her works.

“She’s more mature, more intelligent, stronger,” Smith said. “I’m very happy with the way she’s doing. I couldn’t ask her to be training any better.”

The main rival for Songbird is Street Fancy, making her first start since a come-from-behind victory in the Starlet on Dec. 12. Phil D’Amato trains the 2-for-3 filly, who could be closer to the pace than in either of her last two starts.

“My filly trains like she can be much more forwardly placed,” D’Amato said. “She places herself more on the bit. We’re not going to let [Songbird] get too far away.”

Bob Baffert trains Jade Princess, an allowance winner Jan. 8. “She ran well, she trained well,” Baffert said. “We’ll see where we fit. As long as you’re one-two-three, you’re moving forward. The Kentucky Oaks is the main goal.”

Baffert recognizes what Jade Princess and others in the Las Virgenes field are up against in Songbird. “We’re all running for second,” he said. “When Jerry brings them back, he’s got them cranked up pretty good.”

The Las Virgenes field also includes Decked Out, Land Over Sea, the maiden winner Merirosvo, and the three-start maiden She’s a Warrior.


Songbird, by Medaglia d’Oro

Last 3 Beyers: 99-90-85

◗ The front-running style of Songbird suits the speed-friendly track profile. Going into Thursday, 15 of the 29 one-mile dirt races had been won the by the pacesetter, including 11 of the last 14.

◗ Songbird’s mental composure was evident in her final workout. She was on the track for 15 minutes before she worked, due to a delay caused by an injured horse. Songbird stood still and composed under Smith, then went on with her business.

◗ Hollendorfer considered a half-mile workout early this week for Songbird but decided against it. “I didn’t feel like she needed it,” he said.

◗ Songbird is owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 6 Songbird. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is 20-2-2-3 with a $1.44 ROI over the past five years in dirt route graded stakes at Santa Anita following a layoff of 45 days or more. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Street Fancy, by Street Sense

Beyers: 74-76-67

◗ Victor Espinoza takes over on Street Fancy, who was ridden by Smith in her first three starts. Espinoza worked Street Fancy for the first time Jan. 24.

“Victor’s riding at a level that not too many jocks are at right now,” D’Amato said. “He worked her, and he loved her. She has not missed a beat since the Starlet. Our ultimate goal is the Kentucky Oaks.”

Jade Princess, by Tapit

Last 3 Beyers: 74-51-58

◗ Martin Garcia takes over on Jade Princess, who was ridden by Espinoza in her three previous starts.

◗ Jade Princess has won 2 of 4 starts.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 4 Jade Princess. Trainer Bob Baffert is 53-18-7-8 with a $2.50 ROI over the past five years in dirt route graded stakes with Martin Garcia aboard last-out winners. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

Land Over Sea, by Bellamy Road

Last 3 Beyers: 77-82-72

◗ After finishing seventh in the BC Juvenile Fillies, Land Over Sea was turned out for three weeks. “She’s come back, and she’s doing well,” trainer Doug O’Neill said.

◗ Land Over Sea, Grade 1-placed, won 1 of 5 starts last year while finishing behind Songbird three times.