by Heather Pettinger
Fox Hill Farm's star filly Songbird didn't miss a beat when she made her much anticipated return in the 49th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day.
The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, sent away as the overwhelming 1-5 favorite in her 2017 debut, broke sharply under Hall of Famer Mike Smith and went effortlessly to the front, leading the field of seven through an opening quarter-mile in 23.99 seconds, with Paid Up Subscriber looming a length back to her inside and Carina Mia stalking from the three path.
After a half in 47.27, Paid Up Subscriber went on the attack, mounting an early bid to get a length ahead of Songbird in the middle of the turn. Smith sat patiently aboard Songbird in the two path turning for home, sweeping past Paid Up Subscriber with a shake of reins to hold clear by a length under the wire.
The victory was the first for Songbird, trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, since she was handed the first defeat of her career by four-time champion mare Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last November. Songbird, named champion 2- and 3-year-old filly in 2015 and 2016, respectively, completed the Phipps in 1:42.24 and returned $2.70 for a $2 win wager.
"She jumped really, really well [out of the gate] and I stayed off the fence today, just because it's her first race back, said Smith, picking up his third stakes victory on the card. "If someone wanted to get brave and move early at her, I'd rather move in [to] my inside so that I could wait and keep my position. That part worked out and after that, I hand rode her home. She got a little tired but she is supposed to."
Songbird's victory was her 12th overall from 13 career starts over six different racetracks. She reeled off 11 consecutive wins through her 2- and 3-year-old campaigns. The winner's share of the Phipps purse boosts her lifetime earnings to $4,112,000.
The win also awards her an all-fees-paid berth into the Grade 1, $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff on November 3 at Del Mar.
"A good horse takes to all the tracks, it seems like, and she's a good one," said Hollendorfer. "We're blessed to have her. I didn't have any second thoughts during the week about keeping her at home and running her in the Beholder instead. I talked to [owner] Rick Porter [of Fox Hill Farms] about that and we were pretty much unanimous that we should come here, not to duck those two good fillies [Vale Dori and Stellar Wind] on the West Coast, but Rick likes to run for the money and he likes to run in New York. That's why we did that."
Highway Star closed late to finish third, 2 ½ lengths behind Paid Up Subscriber. Carina Mia was fourth, followed by Verve's Tale, Factory of Faith and Bar of Gold.
149th Belmont Stakes Race Replay