Horses

Could Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia be the one to take down undefeated Songbird?

Cathryn Sophia, seen here with Javier Castellano up winning the Kentucky Oaks in May, takes on undefeated champion Songbird in Saturday’s Grade I Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing.
Cathryn Sophia, seen here with Javier Castellano up winning the Kentucky Oaks in May, takes on undefeated champion Songbird in Saturday’s Grade I Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing. Herald-Leader

Race by spectacular race, every supposed threat to Songbird’s perfection has been summarily dispatched.

While Thoroughbred racing has seen some heralded runners rattle off unbeaten streaks in recent times, there is an air of invincibility to Rick Porter’s dark bay daughter of Medaglia d’Oro that merits its own category. So dominant has Songbird been in winning her 10 career starts by a combined 54¾ lengths that it was considered a gut check when Grade I winner Carina Mia came to her throat on the far turn of the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24, only to end up 5¼, heart-crushing lengths behind the reigning juvenile filly champion at the wire.

One by one, Songbird cleared out practically the entire sophomore filly ranks. The only major divisional threat she has yet to lay claim over is the filly who brings her own fearsome level of brilliance to the table for their impending head-to-head clash.

It was just a handful of months ago that Cathryn Sophia was mentioned as one who possibly had enough ability to seriously challenge Songbird’s ruthless steamroll of her classmates. On Saturday, the Kentucky Oaks heroine will get her crack at the filly widely hailed as the best 3-year-old of either gender when the two meet as part of the six-horse field for the Grade I, $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing.

There has yet to be a race scenario, rival or surface that could put a dent in Songbird’s effortless talent. It could also be argued she hasn’t faced a filly that could carry her tactical speed the way Cathryn Sophia has.

Owned by Cash is King LLC, the fiery daughter of Street Boss has earned her six wins from eight starts by a combined winning margin of 50¾ lengths including her 6½-length victory in the Princess of Sylmar Stakes at Parx on Sept. 3. When Songbird had to miss the Kentucky Oaks because of illness, it was Cathryn Sophia who stepped into the role of authoritative race winner when she triumphed by 2¾ lengths that day.

Trainer John Servis won’t go so far as to say his charge has the magic formula capable of bringing down Goliath. What he will state is his belief that Cathryn Sophia is as much a total package as anything Songbird has faced.

“I wonder if (Songbird) has hooked into a filly as good as mine,” Servis said. “Not to take anything away from any of the other horses, Carina Mia is a super nice horse. But from a handicapping standpoint, I question how far Carina Mia really wants to go. Just looking at the Coaching Club American Oaks when she rolled up to Songbird in the middle of the turn, it looked like she flattened out at the eighth pole.

“(Songbird) is obviously super talented, she’s a champion. And I don’t know if my filly is good enough to beat her. I mean, I wonder how good Songbird is because, from what I’ve seen, I don’t know if she’s even put 100 percent out there yet.”

After finishing third behind Carina Mia in the Grade I Acorn Stakes June 11, Cathryn Sophia was given some time off heading into the Princess of Sylmar Stakes. That she was able to use that outing as a glorified paid workout was exactly what Servis could have asked for given that his charge will likely need every ounce of her reserve to give Songbird a test.

Prior to Songbird missing the Oaks, Servis said he thought the only way to get to her was for some filly to try to eyeball her throughout. While he won’t publicly reveal what plan of attack he has in mind, he feels like Cathryn Sophia is now in her best position for the task at hand.

“We freshened her up some (after the Acorn) and she needed that,” Servis said. “She was ready for a little bit of a break. She came into the last race really well and I couldn’t have written the script any better. I think it will set her up good for the race coming up.

“Even when (Cathryn Sophia) has a bad day it’s a pretty damn good day for most horses. It should be very interesting on Saturday.”

Here is your weekend cheat sheet of the top racing action:

Grade I, $1 million Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles at Parx

Post time: 4:55 p.m. EDT

Watch: TVG

Key contender: The Saratoga surface has been the downfall for many a champion, yet Songbird shipped to the East Coast and dominated during her time there, earning a 7-length win in the Grade I Alabama Stakes on Aug. 20 to go along with her Coaching Club American Oaks triumph. She has proven she can ship and win, earning her 10 career victories over four tracks.

Others to watch: Carina Mia gave Songbird all she had in the Coaching Club American Oaks and was still soundly dismissed in the lane. Graded stakes winner Land Over Sea has been defeated by Songbird five times and trainer Doug O’Neill said this week he would be happy with a runner-up effort Saturday.

Grade II, $1.25 million Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles at Parx

Post time: 5:45 p.m. EDT

Watch: TVG

Key contenders: Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner, the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby, are reunited once more with supremacy in the sophomore male division hanging in the balance. After winning his first eight career starts, Nyquist has lost his last two outings including a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Haskell. As brilliant as Exaggerator looked in taking the Preakness Stakes and Haskell, he was a non-factor in both the Belmont and Travers Stakes where he finished 11th in each outing.

Others to watch: Rebel Stakes winner Cupid has stayed below the top-level fray most of this summer, winning the Grade II Indiana and West Virginia Derbys.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

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