The prestigious Eclipse Awards were instituted in 1971 to honor the crème de la crème of Thoroughbred racing. These awards are named after the phenomenal racehorse Eclipse, who was undefeated in 18 lifetime starts prior to becoming a great sire in the 1700s.
By my count, a total of 348 different Thoroughbreds have won an Eclipse Award through the years, excluding the steeplechase category. And the only one of these 348 Eclipse Award winners to go 11-0 and win each of those 11 races by at least 3 1/2 lengths is Songbird.
Just four of the 348 Eclipse Award winners to date have won their first 11 starts. Interestingly, all four are females -- La Prevoyante, Personal Ensign, Zenyatta and now Songbird following her 4 3/4-length triumph in last Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Cotillion at Parx.
La Prevoyante’s smallest margin of victory in her first 11 starts was 1 1/4 lengths. She was voted a 1971 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly.
Personal Ensign’s smallest margin of victory in her first 11 starts was a head. She was voted a 1988 Eclipse Award as champion older female.
Zenyatta’s smallest of margin of victory in her first 11 starts was a half-length. She was voted Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year in 2010 and champion older mare in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Songbird’s smallest margin of victory in her first 11 starts: 3 1/2 lengths on two different occasions at Santa Anita Park this year. It is truly remarkable that the closest Songbird has come to defeat in her first 11 races is 3 1/2 lengths. She won the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths on March 5 and the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks by the same margin on a sloppy track April 9.
After winning all four of her starts last year, Songbird was voted an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly. With seven victories from as many starts this year, she is an odds-on favorite to be voted another Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
Many felt Songbird was facing her toughest opponent yet last Saturday in Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia. I would agree with that. But Cathryn Sophia proved no match for Songbird, just like every other filly Songbird has ever run against so far. It turned out that Cathryn Sophia did not even finish second in the Cotillion. She ended up third, 6 3/4 lengths behind runner-up Carina Mia. Cathryn Sophia came in 12 1/2 lengths behind Songbird.
Owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms and trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird completed her 1 1/16-mile Cotillion journey in 1:44.02 with Hall of Famer Mike Smith once again in the saddle. The Medaglia d’Oro filly was assigned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. Her career-best Beyer is the 101 she recorded in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24 at Saratoga when she won by 5 1/4 lengths. Carina Mia also was the runner-up in the CCA Oaks.
Songbird’s 101 in the CCA Oaks has been the only triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure she has posted in her 11 career starts. But keep in mind she has won the vast majority of her races with such ease that it has kept her speed figures lower than they otherwise would have been. Beyer Speed Figures do not take into account how much a horse appears to have been asked to run.
According to the American Racing Manual, these are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Cotillion going back to 1990:
2016 Songbird (99)
2015 I’m a Chatterbox (95)
2014 Untapable (94)
2013 Close Hatches (93)
2012 My Miss Aurelia (96)
2011 Plum Pretty (108)
2010 Havre de Grace (105)
2009 Careless Jewel (98)
2008 Seattle Smooth (94)
2007 Bear Now (101)
2006 India (103)
2005 Nothing But Fun (87)
2004 Ashado (103)
2003 Fast Cookie (96)
2002 Smok’n Frolic (97)
2001 Mystic Lady (106)
2000 Jostle (106)
1999 Skipping Around (95)
1998 Lu Ravi (100)
1997 Snit (101)
1996 Double Dee’s (90)
1995 Clear Mandate (98)
1994 Sovereign Kitty (95)
1993 Jacody (104)
1992 Star Minister (95)
1991 not run
1990 Valay Maid (109)
You will see that Havre de Grace is on the above list. Porter also owned her. After Havre de Grace took the Cotillion in 2010, she would go on to be voted 2011 Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year and champion older mare. Larry Jones conditioned Havre de Grace.
Not only does Songbird still have a perfect record, she has won at distances from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. She also has won races on the dirt at five different tracks -- Del Mar, Santa Anita, Keeneland, Saratoga and Parx.
The main track at Parx is known for being a surface that some horses struggle with. The only time California Chrome has finished worse than third in his last 10 starts was when he ran sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby on the main track at Parx in 2014. But there would be no beating Songbird on the main track at Parx last Saturday.
Up next for Songbird is the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 4. Beholder, Stellar Wind and Cavorting also are eyeing that 1 1/8-mile event.
Beholder and Stellar Wind are entered in Santa Anita’s Grade I Zenyatta Stakes at 1 1/16 miles this Saturday. Beholder won the Grade I Vanity Mile at Santa Anita on June 4, with Stellar Wind second. Stellar Wind then won the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on July 30, with Beholder second.
Beholder is a three-time Eclipse Award winner. She was voted champion 2-year-old filly of 2012, champion 3-year-old filly of 2013 and champion older female of 2015. Stellar Wind was voted a 2015 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
Cavorting, who has won three straight, is currently the top-ranked older female on the East Coast. She won the Grade II Ruffian Stakes on May 14, Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes on June 11 and Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes on Aug. 27. The BC Distaff will be her next start.
SONGBIRD MOVES UP TO NO. 3 IN NTRA POLL
Following Songbird’s win in the Cotillion, she moved up a notch in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week to No. 3. Flintshire dropped from No. 3 to No. 4. The top four horses in the poll are a combined 21 for 21 this year.
Here is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll (first-place votes in parenthesis):
1. California Chrome (38)
10. A.P. Indian
No. 1 California Chrome is entered in this Saturday’s Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. The popular 5-year-old California-bred superstar is coming off a smashing five-length win in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20. Earlier this year, the son of Lucky Pulpit won the Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26 even though he raced with a saddle that had slipped.
California Chrome has the distinction of being the wealthiest horse to have ever made at least one start in North America. According to Equibase, these are the 25 leading money-winning Thoroughbreds to have made at least one start in North America through Aug. 23:
Rank Earnings Horse
1. $13,252,650 California Chrome
2. $11,443,812 Espoir City
3. $10,501,800 Curlin
4. $ 9,999,815 Cigar
5. $ 9,616,360 Skip Away
6. $ 9,258,355 Gloria de Campeao
7. $ 8,809,910 Flintshire
8. $ 8,696,325 So You Think
9. $ 8,650,300 American Pharoah
10. $ 8,486,957 Fantastic Light
11. $ 8,387,500 Animal Kingdom
12. $ 7,863,492 St Nicholas Abbey
13. $ 7,804,070 Invasor
14. $ 7,789,880 Pleasantly Perfect
15. $ 7,613,155 Smarty Jones
16. $ 7,556,160 Wise Dan
17. $ 7,304,580 Zenyatta
18. $ 7,176,551 Goldikova
19. $ 6,944,369 Silver Charm
20. $ 6,828,356 Captain Steve
21. $ 6,679,242 Alysheba
22. $ 6,620,852 Dylan Thomas
23. $ 6,598,454 Golden Horn
24. $ 6,591,860 John Henry
25. $ 6,498,893 Game On Dude
CONNECT CAPTURES PENNSYLVANIA DERBY
Back on May 7, Connect graduated from the maiden ranks with a four-length win on a muddy track in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Belmont Park. That same day at Churchill Downs, Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, with Exaggerator second and Gun Runner third.
In last Saturday’s Grade II, $1.25 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, Connect demonstrated that he is a bona-fide up-and-comer in the national sophomore ranks by registering a half-length win over Gun Runner. Nyquist finished sixth in the 1 1/8-mile affair, with Exaggerator seventh.
Connect, ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Chad Brown, races for Paul Pompa Jr. The Curlin colt now has won four of six career starts. Connect has lost just once in five starts this year, finishing sixth in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 27. Arrogate broke Saratoga’s 1 1/4-mile track record in the Travers. Connect wound up 21 3/4 lengths behind Arrogate on that occasion.
On Steve Byk’s radio program “At the Races” Monday, Pompa said Connect was scoped after the Travers and found to have mucus, though he conceded his colt was not going to beat Arrogate anyway the way Arrogate “freaked” that day.
Pompa went on to say Connect will not run in the Grade I BC Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 and also probably will not go in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile at that track on Nov. 4. More likely, Pompa said, is either the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 26 or Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs a day earlier.
Connect’s final time in the Pennsylvania Derby was 1:50.20. He was assigned a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure. These are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Pennsylvania Derby going back to 1992:
2016 Connect (103)
2015 Frosted (106)
2014 Bayern (110)
2013 Will Take Charge (105)
2012 Handsome Mike (93)
2011 To Honor and Serve (105)
2010 Morning Line (103)
2009 Gone Astray (104)
2008 Anak Nakal (100)
2007 Timber Reserve (105)
2006 not run
2005 Sun King (103)
2004 Love of Money (112)
2003 Grand Hombre (108)
2002 Harlan’s Holiday (96)
2001 Macho Uno (104)
2000 Pine Dance (105)
1999 Smart Guy (109)
1998 Rock and Roll (110)
1997 Frisk Me Now (114)
1996 Devil’s Honor (114)
1995 Pineing Patty (108)
1994 Meadow Flight (106)
1993 Wallenda (100)
1992 Thelastcrusade (107)
TOUGH TIMES FOR NYQUIST
Nyquist had an 8-0 record after winning the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Since then, however, he is winless in three starts. In fact, Nyquist has not even finished first or second since his victory in the the Run for the Roses last spring.
After the Kentucky Derby, Nyquist finished third in the Grade I Preakness Stakes on May 21. He then ran fourth in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 31. The track was sloppy for both the Preakness and Haskell. But the track was fast, not wet, for last Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby, yet Nyquist lost again, finishing sixth as the 13-10 favorite.
At least Nyquist did defeat arch rival Exaggerator in the Pennsylvania Derby. Exaggerator finished seventh, seven lengths behind Nyquist. This was the seventh time that Nyquist and Exaggerator had met. The Pennsylvania Derby is the first time that neither won when Nyquist and Exaggerator raced against each other.
Nyquist now has defeated Exaggerator in five of the seven races in which they have clashed. The only two times Nyquist has been beaten by Exaggerator was when the track was wet.
Exaggerator’s lackluster Pennsylvania Derby performance did nothing to dispel the notion that it is a huge plus for him when a track is wet. He now is 0 for 6 this year when competing on a fast track and 3 for 3 when racing on a wet surface.
The last three times Exaggerator has raced on dry land, he finished eleventh in the Grade I Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, eleventh in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga and seventh in the Pennsylvania Derby.