Half the battle in getting Embur's Song to perform at her best is getting the temperamental daughter of Unbridled's Song to stay out of her own way.
So when trainer Todd Pletcher saw the bay filly was minding her manners on Friday, it was of little shock to the future Hall of Famer that positive results soon followed.
Embur's Song balanced her headstrong nature and innate talent during the Grade III, $125,000 Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland as she held off Grade I winner Check the Label by a neck to capture the 11⁄16-mile test in track-record time.
Though Embur's Song had lost her last four coming into the Doubledogdare — including a fourth-place finish last time out in a 11⁄16-mile turf race at Gulfstream on April 2 — she had not been off the board in four prior starts over a synthetic surface.
Her affinity for Keeneland and her desire to do what she wants were evident Friday as she broke on top of the 11-horse field and never trailed, finishing in 1:41.62. The previous track record was 1:41.70 set by Sadler's Trick in 2006.
"I do think she handles the grass pretty well, but she didn't behave very well at all last time," Pletcher said. "She was very rank, was tough in the paddock, tough in the gate. She is a very talented filly who is a challenge at times.
"Today, she behaved herself very well and relaxed as much as she could. She does like the synthetics, obviously, but the biggest key is just her behaving."
Owned by Fares Farm, Embur's Song settled just off the inside path under jockey John Velazquez, opening up a 2-length advantage as she carved out the first quarter mile in :23.90 and the half in :47.75.
The 4-year-old filly maintained a clear advantage coming off the final turn and had enough to hold off Check the Label, who made a charge on the outside, earning her third win from seven career starts.
"It's whatever she wants to do," said Velazquez, who rode four winners on the day. "I tried to settle her down as good as I could without fighting her too much. She wants to be where she wants to be and, hopefully, I have something left down the lane. And she did."
Washington Bridge, the 3-1 favorite, finished in a dead heat for third with It's Tea Time, 2 lengths back of Check the Label.
"I'm happy, but I'm also disappointed," said Graham Motion, trainer of Check the Label, who was making her first start since finishing sixth in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October. "But I'm thrilled to see her come back and look as good as she did last year."
Embur's Song didn't make her career debut until last April, when she broke her maiden by 131/4 lengths at Keeneland. She was sent off at odds of 9-1 on Friday. After running second in the Bison City Stakes at Woodbine in July, the filly was given a break until February as her connections waited for her to develop physically and mentally.
"We gave her a little time off, and she's come back and has really physically done well," said Pletcher, who added that he might look for a race at Arlington Park for her next start. "We kind of had high hopes for her the way she has been training. She just had some immaturity as a 2-year-old."