09/25/2016 10:11AM

Watchmaker: Songbird confirms she's simply sensational

Barbara D. Livingston
Songbird easily disposed of her opponents in the Cotillion at Parx.

It says much about Songbird that the words “brilliant” and “dominant” haven’t been able to do her real justice for quite some time if you want to accurately describe her qualities as a race horse, and her position vis a vis her contemporaries. For Songbird, those words just seem so weak now.

“Sensational” still works, though, and Songbird was every bit of that winning Saturday’s Cotillion Stakes at Parx.

The Cotillion was supposed to be a test for Songbird, I mean, in a relative sense for a 1-5 shot. She made another cross-country trip after the two most demanding outings of her career in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga to compete on a new surface that is deeper than what she is generally accustomed to, against an opponent in Cathryn Sophia who might have been the best she had yet faced, and who had home court advantage.

Test? Ha. What a joke.

Songbird walked away from the Cotillion with her 11th blowout victory from as many career starts, her 10th graded stakes win, and her seventh Grade 1 stakes score. Oh yeah, Songbird also negated any scenario there might have been in regard to her claim on the 3-year-old filly championship. Another divisional title is hers. It doesn’t matter what happens in the Breeders’ Cup when it comes to that.

Cathryn Sophia, as fine a filly as the Kentucky Oaks winner is, isn’t in the same league as Songbird. She had perfect early striking position, but had no answer when asked on the far turn, and wound up third, beaten a staggering 12 1/2 lengths.

I feel bad for Cotillion runner-up Carina Mia because in almost any other year, she would be a prime candidate for a divisional championship. But for 3-year-old fillies, this is not any other year. Anyway, Carina Mia set the pace Saturday, just as she did in the CCA Oaks, and was as game as you could want a horse to be. But Carina Mia, who was beaten by 5 1/4 lengths in her first try against Songbird, finished 5 3/4 lengths away from her this time.

As noted, Songbird had to work hard in her two victories at Saratoga, even if she won those races by lopsided margins. Her Cotillion, however, was anything but demanding. Songbird never appeared to draw a deep breath. That makes her a scary proposition going forward, as does the fact that this one-time front-runner has become so adept at rating kindly just off the early lead.

Songbird now sets her sights on the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and a meeting with three-time champion Beholder, and last year’s Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind. The Distaff will be a classic autumn battle between a very special 3-year-old and truly top-class older opponent. It will be, in a word, sensational.

Pennsylvania Derby result flatters Arrogate

Saturday’s other big race was the Pennsylvania Derby, also at Parx, and the big winner out of that event was Arrogate. And Arrogate didn’t even run in the Pennsylvania Derby.

Arrogate, the explosive winner of the Travers, had his path to the 3-year-old male championship cleared somewhat by the losing performances in the Pennsylvania Derby from Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and Preakness and Haskell winner Exaggerator.

Yes, Arrogate now has a clearer path to a divisional title even if the Travers was his first and only start in a stakes race. Before Saturday, Arrogate probably would have had to have also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic to be champion 3-year-old male, and a Classic win could well make him Horse of the Year, too, depending on how California Chrome performs. But now, after the repeated failures of Nyquist and Exaggerator, maybe Arrogate only has to run well in the Classic, and not necessarily win, to take his division’s title.

The other reason why Arrogate was the symbolic winner of the Pennsylvania Derby is four of the 12 starters in the race came out of his Travers, and three of them finished first, second, and fourth, beaten just a neck for third.

I don’t want to give short shrift to Pennsylvania Derby winner Connect and runner-up Gun Runner, who finished that way thanks to the significant edge in ground saved by Connect (yes, unlike the other 11 1/2 months of the year, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the rail at Parx on Saturday). But the Arrogate influence, and the losses by Nyquist and Exaggerator were, in this instance, of equal import.

Nyquist finished sixth Saturday, beaten five lengths, without any excuse whatsoever. He worked out the most perfect stalking trip that you could have drawn up for him, looked like a potential winner nearing the stretch, only to run out of gas late. He seems far removed from the impressive form he showed winning the Kentucky Derby, and though he might remain a divisional title contender despite three straight losses, he has become an unpalatable one.

Exaggerator was dismal yet again on a dry track Saturday, finishing seventh, seven lengths behind Nyquist. And despite his wins in the Preakness, Haskell, and Santa Anita Derby, all achieved in the slop, it’s difficult, for me, taking Exaggerator as a serious Eclipse Award contender. Not when he has been so heavily reliant on wet tracks plus golden pace setups, and not with losses in the Belmont Stakes, Travers, and now Pennsylvania Derby that were just plain dreadful.

Finally, since we talked about Arrogate flattery, let’s also mention that Drefong’s King’s Bishop victory got a boost with the result of the Gallant Bob Stakes on the Cotillion undercard.

The two starters of 11 in the Gallant Bob who came out of the King’s Bishop – Noholdingback Bear and Mind Your Biscuits – ran first and second. Noholdingback Bear was clearly best in victory, and is an intriguing sprint prospect on any surface.