02/07/2016 12:03PM

Watchmaker: Songbird reaffirms she's a special filly

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Songbird put up faster interior fractions in the Las Virgenes than 3-year-old colts did in the Robert Lewis.

Hers wasn’t the most important, richest, or fastest race of a stakes-rich Saturday. But for me, Songbird’s dominating victory in the Las Virgenes was the event of the day. By far.

Yes, Songbird, the undefeated 2-year-old filly champion of 2015, was 1-10 in the Las Virgenes, so she was expected to overwhelm her five game but outgunned opponents. Still, it was awesome to watch Songbird run away with the Las Virgenes in isolation, as if her only current frame of reference is herself.

With ease, Songbird posted much faster interior fractions than good males did in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes the race before, getting her second quarter in 23.38 seconds and third quarter in 23.98 compared with corresponding splits of 24.29 and 24.56 in the Lewis.

The thing I think is most unusual about Songbird is the way she piques the imagination, much in a manner that only the most brilliant horses do. It has become a cliché, but we really do have no idea just how good this filly might be. Songbird ran much, much faster than males did twice last fall on the biggest stages available to her at that time. After five starts now, she has never been challenged in any way, shape, or form.

We are very, very lucky to have a horse like Songbird racing, especially on the heels of the retirement of American Pharoah, and the undeniable void left by the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Other Saturday stakes thoughts:

* Mor Spirit’s victory in the Lewis – also expected as he was sent off at 3-5 – wasn’t as flashy as Songbird’s romp, but I still liked it. Mor Spirit sat off a pace that was, as noted earlier, pedestrian, and also not especially contested. Moreover, the two who were on that pace – I Will Score and Uncle Lino – are nice colts who had previously run fast enough to suggest that they could be competitive with Mor Spirit.

In other words, while Mor Spirit never suffered a straw in his path, his setup in the Lewis from a pace perspective was not ideal. Nevertheless, Mor Spirit overpowered the two pace players in the late stages, just the way you would want a new 3-year-old to do.

Mor Spirit came into the Lewis as one of the top prospects for the Kentucky Derby. Nothing we saw from him Saturday suggests that has changed.

* Mshawish’s victory in the Donn was, in my view, a breakthrough performance for him. I’ve maintained that Mshawish was better than he was being given credit for because of his tendency to pull himself up once he struck the front in the stretch. That made his performances look a little less compelling on paper than they actually were, with his neck victory in last month’s Hal’s Hope being a perfect example.

But Mshawish was all business on Saturday. He didn’t even think about switching gears once he poked his head in front in midstretch, and he drew off to score decisively.

The Donn was Mshawish’s stepping-stone to the March 26 Dubai World Cup. Whether Mshawish can handle stretching out to 10 furlongs at Meydan while also taking on much tougher company than he handled in the Donn is an open question. But he is at least going in the best form of his career.

* It looks as though Hoppertunity is also going to the Dubai World Cup after his nose victory over Imperative in the San Antonio. I supposed it was fitting in a sense that the San Antonio came down to a tight photo as Hoppertunity hadn’t won in 13 months, burning boatloads of money along the way, and Imperative hasn’t had his picture taken in 22 months.

It will come as a surprise to no one that the horse I want going forward out of the San Antonio is Donworth. I’ve been a Donworth fan from the beginning. I liked him (a lot) in the San Antonio even if he was coming off a near eight-month layoff, and I thought he was a winner in upper stretch. In the end, Donworth finished third, beaten a half-length for it all. But I think he will benefit tremendously from this outing.

* Lukes Alley and Flamboyant, respective winners of the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and the San Marcos, have emerged as welcome additions to a male turf division that can use all the help it can get until the Europeans come and plunder it in the fall. Lukes Alley, a 6-year-old, now has an admirable record of eight wins and four seconds from 14 career starts. Flamboyant, who suffered a severe mid-career slump after showing promise as a 3-year-old, has not only made it all the way back, he is better than he has ever been.

The big disappointment turf-wise was The Pizza Man’s dull fifth in the Gulfstream Turf. Many smart handicappers thought The Pizza Man was vulnerable Saturday. I, admittedly, was not one of them. But when the 2015 Arlington Million winner drifted to slightly more than  even money in the betting against a less-than-established field, that was certified ice on the board, and he ran like it.