Song­bird seek­ing to keep record per­fect in BC Distaff

No pres­sure, jockey says of 11-race win­ning streak

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Beth Har­ris

ARCADIA, CALIF. — Mike Smith knows plenty about rid­ing un­de­feated fe­male horses. He was aboard su­per­star mare Zeny­atta for most of her 19-race win­ning streak.

Now he’s on un­beaten Song­bird, who takes an 11-race win­ning streak into the $2 mil­lion Breed­ers’ Cup Distaff, to­day’s head­line race on the open­ing day of the two-day world cham­pi­onships at Santa Anita Park, which is host­ing for a record ninth time.

She’s got stiff com­pe­ti­tion from fel­low cham­pi­ons Be­holder and Stel­lar Wind.

Song­bird is the early 6-5 fa­vorite, with Be­holder and Stel­lar Wind as the co-se­cond choices at 5-2 among the eight fil­lies and mares chas­ing the prize in the11⁄ mile race.

Smith won the 2008 Distaff aboard Zeny­atta, and he guided her to a vic­tory against males in the 2009 BCClas­sic at Santa Anita. Her win­ning streak ended in the 2010 Clas­sic at Churchill Downs, where Zeny­atta ended her ca­reer los­ing by a head to Blame.

The Hall of Fame jockey cried and could barely speak after­ward.

The pres­sure of Zeny­atta’s run of vic­to­ries kept him awake at night. This time, the 51-year-old rider isn’t car­ry­ing the men­tal bur­den of Song­bird’s streak.

“For some rea­son I’m more com­fort­able than I was the last time Zeny­atta ran. You learn lit­tle things,” he said. “She has to do her job; I have to do mine. If given the op­por­tu­nity to do that, I think we’re go­ing to see some­thing spe­cial.”

With the ex­cep­tion of fel­low 3-year-old Land Over Sea, Song­bird is chal­leng­ing older horses in the Distaff.

“She’s al­ways been above av­er­age about ev­ery­thing,” Smith said. “The way she thinks, she gets it. She’s smart. Men­tally, she’s ready for it. You hope phys­i­cally she is. She looks like it.”

Zeny­atta was known for her come-frombe­hind style, of­ten spot­ting ri­vals huge leads be­fore over­tak­ing them down the stretch. Song­bird runs at or near the lead. The only time she wasn’t first or se­cond in the early go­ing was in her first two races, when she ral­lied from fourth and sixth, re­spec­tively.

“You re­ally can’t plan for how to run the race, be­cause the mo­ment the gates open it could all change,” her Hall of Fame trainer, Jerry Hol­len­dor­fer, said. “We know she can go to the front or sit off the pace; we’re com­fort­able with her ver­sa­til­ity. This re­ally be­comes a rid­ers’ race, so you need to have con­fi­dence in your jockey. Mike has rid­den her in all of her starts and knows her very well.”

Be­holder won the 2013 Distaff at Santa Anita. She has never won out­side her South­ern Cal­i­for­nia base, los­ing both times she trav­eled, to New York and Ken­tucky,

Race in­for­ma­tion

At Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, Calif.

$1 mil­lion Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile Turf, 5:25 p.m.

$1 mil­lion Las Ve­gas Breed­ers’ Cup Dirt Mile, 6:05 p.m.

$1 mil­lion Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile Fil­lies Turf, 6:50 p.m.

$2 mil­lion Longines Breed­ers’ Cup Distaff, 7:35 p.m. TV: NBC Sports Net­work, 5 p.m. Nine races start­ing at 3:05 p.m. and in­clud­ing the Clas­sic at 8:35 p.m. TV: NBC Sports Net­work, 2:30 p.m., chs. 11, 4, 8 p.m.

Lo­cal con­nec­tions

and last year she failed to make her sched­uled start in the BC Clas­sic at Keeneland after spik­ing a fever.

“Ev­ery­thing is right, right now, so my job is to see if there is any­thing wrong be­tween here and there,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Man­della said. “Hope­fully, I am­not go­ing to find it or there is noth­ing to find.”

Be­holder, a 6-year-old three-time Eclipse Award win­ner, will be mak­ing her 26th and fi­nal ca­reer start to­day.

“On pa­per, this is the best Distaff I’ve rid­den in,” her jockey, Gary Stevens, said. “Be­holder is the best horse I have ever rid­den.”

Trained by John Sadler, Stel­lar Wind has won seven of 11 ca­reer starts. She beat Be­holder in her pre­vi­ous two starts un­der Vic­tor Espinoza.

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