SARATOGA SPRINGS — She’ll be back.
Owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm announced via Twitter that two-time champion Songbird will return to Saratoga Race Course this summer to run in the Grade I Personal Ensign on Travers Day, Aug. 26.
A part of Songbird’s 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award season in 2016 was a sweep of the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama.
Porter had said he was leaning against running her at Saratoga. Her 2017 campaign so far has consisted of a one-length win over Paid Up Subscriber in the Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes Day and a one-length win over Martini Glass in the Delaware Handicap on July 15.
On Sunday afternoon, Porter tweeted “I have decided to run Songbird at Saratoga on August 26th in the Personal Ensign.”
“We are definitely running,” Porter told the New York Racing Association. “I want to run at Saratoga. It’s my favorite track to run at, and I think it’s the right race for her anyway. The timing is right, the purse is right and she’s run well there.”
Songbird’s only career loss in 14 races was a second by the closest of noses to Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Trainer Bob Baffert said that Abel Tasman, the clear leader of the 3-year-old filly division so far this year, might run in the Personal Ensign, which would set up a similar matchup, except this time the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Songbird would be the elder taking on the best of the 3-year-olds.
Other tough older horses targeting the Personal Ensign are Forever Unbridled, Shine Again and Carina Mia.
“It’s not going to be a pushover race,” Porter said. “But according to Mr. Hollendorfer, she couldn’t be doing any better. She worked 1:01 and they gave her a ‘breezing’ [notation], which is pretty hard to get at Del Mar. Jerry said she went around the track like she was jogging around.
“I asked Jerry the other day to compare her to how she was a week or two before the Breeders’ Cup, and he said, ‘I got to tell you, Rick, she is better than she’s ever been. These two races have just got her in position where she couldn’t be more fit.’ If it weren’t for that whisker [against Beholder], she’d be undefeated, but she’s still something special.”
READY FOR ALABAMA
The filly Holy Helena, winner of the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, will be back with her own gender Saturday in the Alabama, and worked well in company with stablemate Knarsdale on the Oklahoma training track Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:01.59.
While acknowledging that the Alabama field looks like it will be a difficult one, trainer Jimmy Jerkens is pleased with how Holy Helena has maintained her fitness.
“We never stopped on her since the Queen’s Plate, so she hasn’t missed a beat. We wanted to go pretty good today,” Jerkens said. “It was good. She was down on the inside there, and sometimes she can get lazy, that’s why she had a workmate. And that was a decent filly. She’s won a few, and as a matter of fact, she was second to her first time out.”
Unraced at 2, Holy Helena was beaten by Knarsdale at Aqueduct in April, but has rattled off three straight wins, beating males in the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Toronto after a victory in the Woodbine Oaks. In the Oaks, she ran faster than the males who were contesting the Plate Trial on the same card, and the Queen’s Plate looked like the same cast of characters as the Trial, so it made sense to try that race.
But Jerkens wanted to skip the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales, in favor of the Saratoga race, which is a Grade I and carries a $600,000 purse.
That move is reminiscent of 2011 and the filly Inglorious, who won the Queen’s Plate, then was sixth in the Alabama.
Woodbine regular Luis Contreras rode Holy Helena in the Oaks and Queen’s Plate, but she’ll pick up John Velazquez to ride in the Alabama.
“She’s shown she’s quality, and Johnny’s riding her and riding really good,” Jerkens said. “It’s a big question mark. I like how she’s doing, and that’s all I can say.”
AROUND THE TRACKS
Trainer Chad Brown had another big Arlington Million Day at Arlington Park on Saturday, sweeping the Grade I Beverly D. with Dacita and the Million with Beach Patrol.
He was not in Chicago, though, having stayed in Saratoga to saddle Time Test in the Fourstardave. In his third start — and third loss — in the U.S. since coming over from England, Time Test was second to World Approval by 2 1/4 lengths.
“I thought the winner ran terrific, but our horse was probably compromised by the [soft] ground,” Brown said. “He didn’t switch leads in the lane, much like he did in his first start for me in the Fort Marcy on heavy turf, and it’s just not for him.”
Brown has won the Beverly D. three straight years. . . .
Trainer Mark Casse said World Approval will stick to the mile distance and use the Sept. 16 Woodbine Mile as a steppingstone to the Breeders’ Cup.
Casse won the Woodbine Mile last year with two-time champion Tepin. . . .
Trainer Brian Lynch said Oscar Performance, who won the Secretariat on Arlington Million Day, will try older horses in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Sept. 30.