LAS VEGAS--After throwing shade on the Belmont Stakes last month, Mike Smith and Songbird should have an uncontested day in the spotlight this weekend.
The Hall of Fame jockey will ride again Saturday on one of the two best female horses going now on dirt. Songbird will be the prohibitive favorite against five outclassed rivals in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap, a 1¼-mile Grade 1 race for fillies and mares at Delaware Park outside Wilmington.
“She is one of the most intelligent horses you’ll ever be on,” Smith said after riding her to one-length win in her 2017 debut in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes on Belmont day. That was one of five victories Smith had to dominate the card, overshadowing Tapwrit’s win in the Belmont. Being on the 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, he said there was nothing to it. As Smith put it, “You can ride her with your fingers.”
How much better is Songbird than her five challengers Saturday? She has earned more than $4 million and won eight Grade 1 races. If not for the nose of the now-retired Beholder in a thrilling Breeders’ Cup Distaff last year, the 4-year-old filly that has won two Eclipse Awards in her division would be undefeated.
“Songbird is training really well right now,” her Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “We are hopeful she can come in (to the Del Cap) and have a good start. I have run at Delaware before in a few races, and I have been real fortunate in that most of my horses have gotten over the racetrack.”
The rest of the Del Cap field has a combined record in nine graded stakes of only one win, no seconds and no thirds. That one victory was Weep No More’s in last year’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. The 4-year-old filly sired by the 2003 U.S. champion Mineshaft has since failed to hit the board in five graded-stakes tries. But the fact that she has raced at that level makes Weep No More the 5-1 second choice on the morning line with Songbird at 1-5.
“We really like the mile-and-a-quarter for her,” trainer George Arnold said. “We like everything about the race – except that Songbird is in the race.”
Based just on class, this race figures to provide little value on top and even in exacta betting. If there is no upset, Songbird should be able to lead all the way from gate to wire without much intrigue. That is unless Smith pushes her to become only the second winner of this race to break two minutes for the 10 furlongs (Coup De Fusil was clocked at 1:59 4/5 in 1987).
Saturday’s race at 5:30 p.m. EDT is hardly the be-all, end-all for Songbird. Her rivalry with Stellar Wind – the other “one of the two best female horses” – puts the two of them on course to settle things in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. That will be near San Diego at Del Mar, where the 5-year-old mare sired by two-time U.S. champion Curlin is expected to try and defend her victory in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes in two weeks.
“She’s even stronger than she was last year at this point in the year,” Stellar Wind’s trainer John Sadler said after her last victory early last month. “We’re really excited.”
But Sadler was also relieved when Stellar Wind won by just a neck over Vale Dori in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita, her second victory in as many starts since her fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“She so tough,” Sadler said right after he went whew. “She doesn’t lose photos. This was closer than I thought it was going to be, but (Vale Dori) is really a top mare now.”
Vale Dori is also ticketed for the Hirsch, which figures to lure more than just the three horses that were in the Beholder Mile. Sadler figured the slightly longer distance at Del Mar will be more to Stellar Wind’s liking.
“Now that she’s an older mare she might be more comfortable at 1 1/16 miles,” Sadler said. “And she is very comfortable at 1 1/8 miles. The mile was a little bit short, but she ran great.”
Irap goes after third win in his last four
Best known as the 31-1 long shot that won the Blue Grass Stakes, Irap is expected to be anything but on Saturday night. He is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the $500,000 Grade 3 Indiana Derby, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds racing at Indiana Grand southeast of Indianapolis.
Trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutiérrez, the colt sired by Tiznow bounced back from an 18th-place finish at the Kentucky Derby by winning at odds of 5-2 in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby three weeks ago.
Untrapped (6-1) comes back from a third-place finish in the Ohio Derby and joins 10 other colts to challenge Irap.
There is no obvious speed in the Ohio Derby, so Pat Day Mile winner Wild Shot (8-1) or stakes debutant Awesome Saturday (8-1) may end up on the early lead. The field also includes Hollywood Handsome (8-1), the Dallas Stewart-trained colt that clipped heels early in the Belmont Stakes, causing jockey Florent Geroux to lose his irons.
Post time for the Ohio Derby is 9:49 p.m. EDT Saturday.
West Coast is favorite on the west coast
After Smith rode him to victory in the Easy Goer Stakes on Belmont Stakes day, West Coast (9-5) is the morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $200,000 Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby.
Trained by Bob Baffert, the colt sired by Flatter (no relation) will be ridden by Drayden Van Dyke since Smith will be on the east coast. In his first race at 1 1/8 miles, West Coast will have seven rivals, four of which – Kimbear (4-1), B Squared (12-1), Term Of Art (15-1) Milton Freewater (20-1) – have raced at least the nine furlongs at some point in their past.
The Los Al Derby has a post time of 7:58 p.m. EDT Saturday.
Dortmund is out of retirement for Sherman
Like an unwanted relative that does not deserve to be, Dortmund has been brought out of retirement after only three months.
The Santa Anita Derby winner two years ago, the 5-year-old has resumed training for trainer Art Sherman, who was not sure yet what race will be next for the horse sired by 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown.
Dortmund’s last race was a fourth-place finish April 1 in the Santana Mile at Santa Anita. Mercurial owner Kaleem Shah had only last winter taken Dortmund from Baffert’s barn, transferring him to Sherman in an unceremonious parting with Baffert. Shah said this past spring that Dortmund would be retired to stud, only to change his mind this summer.