Undefeated filly Songbird, considered by many to be the best 3-year-old in training of either gender, will not race in the Kentucky Oaks on May 6 after developing a low grade fever.
Owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms posted a statement on his farm’s Facebook page Sunday evening saying that Songbird’s fever had not resolved and that the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was started on a course of antibiotics.
“Unfortunately we have to report that Songbird will miss the Kentucky Oaks,” Porter said in his Facebook post. “She developed a low grade fever after the Santa Anita Oaks (on April 9) and has not been able to go out to the track. With the fever not resolved, she was started on a course of antibiotics ... and as a result it'll be another 7-10 days before she’s able to return to the track. We are sorry to have to miss the Oaks, but what's most important is to get Songbird well, and we have two great vets along with (trainer) Jerry (Hollendorfer) and his team taking good care of her.”
Unbeaten and unchallenged in seven career starts, Songbird loomed as the strongest Oaks favorite since eventual Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra captured the premier race for 3-year-old fillies by 20 1/4 lengths in 2009. That winning margin figured to be challenged this year as Songbird has won her starts by a combined 36 lengths with many of her races being little more than glorified workouts.
The latest such example came during her Grade I Santa Anita Oaks triumph where jockey Mike Smith was basically standing up in the saddle most of the way, letting her roll with no urging. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland last October, Songbird hit the wire 5 3/4 lengths in front of runner-up and Grade I winner Rachel’s Valentina en route to earning all but one of a possible 261 first-place votes in Eclipse Award balloting for champion 2-year-old filly.
While many clamored for Songbird to face her male counterparts in the Kentucky Derby, Hollendorfer and Porter were steadfast that the dark bay filly would not be nominated to the Triple Crown races and would remain against her own sex for the time being. Her connections remained true to their word even as she cantered her way to wins in the Grade II Las Virgenes on Feb. 6, the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes on March 5 and the Santa Anita Oaks this season.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten to see how good she is yet to be honest with you,” Smith said prior to the Santa Anita Oaks. “I just don’t think I’ve seen a 3-year-old that’s been so dominant like this. I’ve been on 3-year-olds that had a good winning streak of five, six, seven, eight (races) ... but I don’t think any of them have been as dominant as she has been, you know?
“There’s nothing wrong with beating your own gender and hopefully racking up as many wins as you can, you know, before you do face them. But as far as her ability and do I think she can compete and beat the boys? Without a doubt.”
Many of the connections of Oaks contenders conceded they would likely be running for second honors this season.
Trainer Doug O’Neill knows firsthand how scary Songbird is as his charge, Land Over Sea, has been beaten by her five times. After running second in the Las Virgenes and Santa Ysabel, Land Over Sea shipped out of California to win the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks on March 26 and now moves to the forefront of the Oaks contenders.
“I think if somebody were ever able to eyeball Songbird early, that’s something we haven’t seen,” O’Neill said this past week when asked of a possible scenario in which Songbird is bested. “She might just laugh at that. I think she’s classy enough that if somebody did try to eyeball her early she might back right out of it and go around them. That’s the only scenario where anyone would have a chance is if she got caught up in some crazy speed duel.”