06/19/2016 10:28AM

Watchmaker: How special is Songbird? Very special

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Jockey Mike Smith gives a thumbs-up after riding Songbird to victory in the Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita on Saturday.

It says a lot about Songbird, and the connection she has made with the racing public, that everyone seems to think they know best what her next start should be. Many of us do love to play “racing manager,” and plot out campaigns for good horses. But with so many playing this game with Songbird, and playing it passionately, it speaks to how special she is.

Songbird was certainly special Saturday in the Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita. Yes, Songbird was 1-20, and was supposed to drub four severely overmatched opponents. But this also was Songbird’s first start back from an illness that prevented her from competing in the Kentucky Oaks, and it was meant only as a springboard to bigger things in the not-too-distant future.

Viewed through that prism, Songbird’s performance Saturday was thoroughly satisfying. Songbird was so dominant winning all seven of her starts before the Summertime Oaks, including what was likely her toughest assignment so far in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland last fall, that she hadn’t faced a challenge of any sort. Songbird wasn’t even remotely challenged on Saturday, either.

However, for the first time in her career, Songbird did allow another opponent to have the lead for the first half-mile, through fractions of 22.97 seconds, and of 45.95. It is difficult to assess how fast this pace was because there were no other main track routes Saturday at Santa Anita, but it felt on the quick side of honest.

No matter. Volleying on the lead through quick early splits with an opponent intent on taking her out of her front-running game made little difference to Songbird. She just put her field away with a burst around the far turn and into the stretch, and won in isolation for the eighth time in as many starts, again while never being asked to run.

Special, indeed.

Okay, so what does Songbird do next?
Even though her connections were customarily conservative in their comments after the Summertime Oaks, her next start seems pretty obvious.
It won’t be the Haskell, the race many in internet-land want Songbird to run; Songbird’s connections are loath to run her against males. Don’t forget, they took the unusual step of announcing in early March that their filly would not race in the Kentucky Derby, and followed through by not nominating her to the Triple Crown. As cool as it would be to see her try something out of the box just to get a sense for the first time of how good she might really be, the position Songbird’s connections have regarding running her against males, at least at this stage of her life, are crystal clear, and should be respected.

It also doesn’t figure to be the Delaware Oaks, a race trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has history with, having won it in 2010 with Blind Luck. The Delaware Oaks is only a Grade 3, but it has a competitive purse of $300,000. The big issue with this race is it will be run July 9, and it’s tough to see Songbird wheeling back in only three weeks.

The obvious fit for Songbird’s next start is the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 24. The CCA Oaks is a highly prestigious race, on the big stage of Saratoga, and affords Songbird five weeks between starts, which is ideal.

Saturday notes:

**Okay, I know he was 1-10 and was also supposed to win, and he got totally loose on the lead, to boot. But it would be foolish to discount Gun Runner just because his victory in the Matt Winn at Churchill had a low degree of difficulty.

Gun Runner’s good, if tired, third in the Kentucky Derby was better than his victories in the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star, and his Matt Winn performance confirmed he is a colt definitely moving in the right direction. Gun Runner doesn’t need the lead to be effective, and he will have a major say in the Haskell, no matter who shows up there.

**On one level, you have to feel good for Bradester, upset winner of Churchill’s Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. He’s a 6-year-old horse, out there still punching, delivering honest performances more often than not. It is nice to see his persistence rewarded.

On the other hand, it’s questionable how much of a role the Foster result will play in the handicap division, if any. Once 3-5 favorite Effinex didn’t fire, and he didn’t show up at all, it threw the Foster wide open. And as honest as Bradester is, after 22 career starts, we also know fairly precisely what he is, and he has never been confused for being a legitimate Grade 1 horse.

**Obviously was most impressive winning the Poker Stakes at Belmont as miles the best. He is 8, and he is still a high-class act.
Unfortunately, I can’t get too excited over Obviously’s final time of 1:31.65 for the mile over the Widener turf course. For one, there have been serious timing issues at Belmont, mainly on turf, but also on dirt, and it’s hard to know what times to trust anymore. Secondly, super fast times are more often a function of super fast surfaces rather than super performances, though Obviously is obviously very good.