USA: Songbird faces stiffest task at Parx

Songbird: Remains unbeaten in her career so far

PICTURE: Eric Kalet USA: Songbird faces stiffest task at Parx By Nicholas Godfrey 9:33PM 23 SEP 2016

Preview: USA, Saturday

Parx Racing (Philadelphia): Cotillion Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo fillies 9.55pm BST (live on ATR)

IT CAN'T be too often that a $1 million-plus event featuring a pair of Classic winners might be asked to take second stage but that could well be the case at Parx in Philadelphia on Saturday when the brilliant Songbird faces potentially the stiffest test of her flawless career to date.

On its own, a Pennsylvania Derby featuring the latest head-to-head between Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and his Preakness conqueror Exaggerator would be more than enough to top the bill.

Here, though, it may have to play second fiddle as Songbird (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith) – widely considered the best three-year-old of either sex in North America – bids to extend her unbeaten sequence to 11 in the Cotillion Stakes, a Grade 1 event in which she will have to be on her mettle to beat a field also featuring Kentucky Oaks one-two Cathryn Sophia and Land Over Sea plus Carina Mia.

Songbird has has been untouchable so far, winning all in ten career starts – among them six Grade 1s – by a cumulative 55 lengths. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro posted yet another imperious victory a month ago in the Alabama Stakes last month.

“She's been ultra-consistent through the entire time I've been training her, which started well before her first start,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, speaking to the Blood-Horse. “She was well thought of from when she was sent to me and has never done anything to make us think otherwise.”

The Breeders' Cup Distaff is the primary target for Songbird, who breaks from gate five in a six-runner field in the Cotillion. “These kind of horses are few and far between and we're very glad to have her,” said Hollendorfer. “Right now we're real happy with Songbird and hopefully we can continue winning with her.”

In Songbird's absence after a fever, Cathryn Sophia (John Servis/Javier Castellano) beat Land Over Sea (Doug O'Neill/Mario Gutierrez) by nearly three lengths in the Kentucky Oaks; in her previous races, the runner-up had been well beaten four times by Songbird.

Cathryn Sophia, though, had made a habit of wide-margin successes before the Oaks, and she looked right back to her best last time when scoring by more than six in a minor event at this venue on September 3.

“Not to take anything away from Songbird, but I don’t know if Songbird has run against anything like Cathryn Sophia yet,” Servis told the Daily Racing Form. “She’s going to show up, she’s going to bring her game. If she’s good enough, that’s the question.”

The form book suggested Cathryn Sophia had merely to turn up to win there – she was a 1-10 favourite – and she was run down by Carina Mia (Bill Mott/Julien Leparoux) in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in June.

Carina Mia has since been beaten by Songbird in the CCA Oaks at Saratoga, where she also gave best to older horses in the Ballerina, albeit over an inadequate 7f trip. Her connections will surely be hoping her main rivals wear each other out in a pace battle.

Ladbrokes: 2-5 Songbird, 9-2 Cathryn Sophia, 11-2 Carina Mia, 20 Land Over Sea, 66 Disco Rose, 100 Queena Esther

Also on Saturday
Parx Racing: Pennsylvania Derby (Grade 2)
1m1f, dirt, 3yo (10.45pm BST, live on ATR)

A major trial for the Breeders' Cup Classic and a significant prize in its own right, the Penn Derby has been won by subsequent Classic winner Bayern and top-class Frosted in the last two seasons.

Given that it has attracted yet another top-class field, featuring the latest clash between Classic winners Nyquist and Exaggerator, this $1.25m contest looks ripe for an upgrade from its Grade 2 status.

Six times the pair have met previously, with Nyquist (Doug O'Neill/Mario Gutierrrez) coming off best the first four times, including in both last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby in May, when Exaggerator was a late-running second.

Nyquist won his first eight career starts but Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux/Kent Desormeaux) ended any Triple Crown hopes by turning the tables in a muddy Preakness – and he asserted his superiority again in the Haskell. He, too, needs to repair his reputation to some degree, having been thrashed last time in the Travers Stakes behind the wildly impressive Arrogate.

Exaggerator starts from gate two, with Nyquist – set to be ridden off the pace this time – out in nine in a 12-runner contest full of well-known three-year-olds. They include Kentucky Derby third Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen/Florent Geroux) – miles in front of Exaggerator in the Travers – and Coolmore's three-time Grade 2 winner Cupid (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano), who has been making a habit of winning richly endowed minor Derbies.

Awesome Slew (Ed Plesa/Paco Lopez), who breaks from the rail, took the Parx trial by seven lengths.

>>Connections of the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell and Travers are eligible for a $100,000 appearance bonus.

Ladbrokes: 3 Nyquist, 7-2 Exaggerator, 4 Cupid, 6 Gun Runner, 12 Connect, Summer Revolution, 16 Awesome Slew, 20 Sunny Ridge, 25 Hit It Once More, 33 My Man Sam, Wild About Deb, 100 Discreet Lover

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