Songbird Given Green Light for Personal Ensign

Fox Hill Farms’ two-time champion Songbird (Medaglia d’Oro) will make her next start in Saratoga’s GI Personal Ensign S. on GI Travers S. day, Aug. 26, Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms said Sunday. The 4-year-old filly breezed five furlongs in 1:01 flat Sunday morning at her summer base at Del Mar.

We are definitely running, said owner Rick Porter by phone. I want to run at Saratoga. It’s my favorite track to run at, and I think it’s the right race for her anywaythe timing is right, the purse is right, and she’s run well there.

The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee notched back-to-back wins at the Spa last summer in the GI Coaching Club American Oaks and the GI Alabama S. Songbird will likely meet a salty group of rivals in the Personal Ensign.

We’re going to hook Forever Unbridled, Carina Mia, and whoever else is coming, so 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 in 1:01 and they gave her a ‘breezing,’ which is pretty hard to get at Del Mar. Jerry said she went around the track like she was just jogging around.

Songbird has won 13 of her 14 starts with earnings over $4.5 million. Her lone defeat came by a nose behind Beholder (Henny Hughes) in last November’s GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but the filly has bounced back with a pair of wins at the highest level in the June 10 GI Ogden Phipps S. and July 15 GI Delaware H.

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 the position where she couldn’t be more fit,’ said Porter. If it weren’t for that whisker, she’d be undefeated, but she’s still something special.

#ABArare Jabiru Texas

On August 1, David Hanson and others discovered an ABA Code 4 Jabiru in Chambers County, Texas, east of Houston. The bird was seen among a flock of Wood Storks and other waders. It was seen briefly before it flew back away from the public road. It is likely still in the area.

Photo: David Hanson via TEXBIRDS/David Sarkozi

The bird was seen near the corner of Pear Orchard and FM 1985 (Whites Ranch Rd) in Chambers County, north of Anhuac NWR, near an old crawfish pond. It is just over an hour from the Houston International Airport by car. It is a mixed flock of egrets and Wood Storks. The bird flew back away from the road and lite some where back in the field. The specific location is pinpointed on Google Maps here.

Jabiru is a dramatic neotropical stork that has ventured into the ABA Area about 15 times previous, most recently in Texas in August of 2016. Records are almost exclusively in the late summer and associated with post-breeding dispersal during the dry season in southeastern Mexico and northern Central America. Most records come from Texas, but Jabiru has also been recorded in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

For regular updates from those who seek to find the bird today, please see the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook Group.

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Observations on the European Racing Scene for Thursday, Aug. 3

Observations on the European Racing Scene turns the spotlight on the best European races of the day, highlighting well-pedigreed horses early in their careers, horses of note returning to action and young runners that achieved notable results in the sales ring. Thursday’s Insights features a half-brother to U.S. MGISW Main Sequence (Aldebaran).

2.20 Clairefontaine, Mdn, 25,000, unraced 3yo, c/g, 12fT

MERU (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), a hitherto unraced Niarchos Family homebred, is a half-brother to 2012 G1 Epsom Derby second and four-time Stateside Grade I winner Main Sequence (Aldebaran), whose final top-level score came in the 2014 GI Breeders’ Cup Turf. Opposition to the Francis-Henri Graffard trainee includes Flaxman Stables Ireland’s Apollonian (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}), who is a gelded half-brother to this term’s G1 Prix Ganay victor Cloth of Stars (Sea the Stars {Ire}), from the Andre Fabre stable.

4.45 Goodwood, Mdn, 25,000, 2yo, f, 7fT

MAGICAL (IRE) (Galileo {Ire}) is a daughter of 2008 G1 Irish 1000 Guineas, G1 Nassau S. and G1 Sun Chariot S. victress Halfway to Heaven (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}), and returns off a debut second going six furlongs at The Curragh last month. She is a full-sister to last term’s G1 Fillies’ Mile heroine and this year’s dual Classic-placed Rhododendron (Ire), and faces seven rivals in the same maiden that sibling plundered for Aidan O’Brien last year.

NHC Berths Up for Grabs in Ellis Handicapping Contest

Ellis Park will host the Bluegrass Tournament Aug. 20 and the top four finishers earn trips to the National Handicapping Championship.

Entry fee to participate is $500, of which $200 goes toward prize money, with Ellis Park and contest administrator AmWager taking no money out. The remaining $300 is the player’s live bankroll, with participants keeping any money they make or have left at the end of the tournament. In addition to an NHC berth, the top four will also win a hotel room at tournament site Treasure Island Hotel & Casino and airfare up to $500.

The tournament will involve betting a minimum of $20 (win, place, exacta or daily double) on each of 10 races that players select from Ellis’ card and optional races. The $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile and Debutante S. will be mandatory races. The tournament is capped at 150 entries, with players allowed to have up to two entries.

Registration, rules and more information are available here.

Notable US-Breds in Japan: Aug. 5 & 6, 2017

In this ongoing series, Alan Carasso (@EquinealTDN) takes a look ahead at US-bred and/or conceived runners entered for the upcoming weekend at the tracks on the Japan Racing Association circuit, with a focus on pedigree and/or performance in the sales ring. Here are the horses of interest for this weekend running atKokura andNiigata Racecourses, including a son of the late Regal Ransom looking to improve on a track record-setting performance last time out:

Saturday, August 5, 2017

10th-KOK, 19,950,000 ($181k), Allowance, 3yo/up, 1700m

FACE IMPACT (c, 4, Unbridled’s SongAmazing Buy, by High Yield), third in his debut at this track in February 2016, broke his maiden at fourth asking at Kyoto last May (video, gate 1). The $150K KEESEP yearling, whose treble SW dam is a half-sister to Sovereign Award winner Alpha Bettor (Alphabet Soup), has the right to improve after catching a muddy surface over an insufficient 1400m when resuming from an 11-month layoff at NAR facility Kochi Apr. 26. B-Momkids Inc (KY)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

3rd-KOK, 9,550,000 ($87k), Maiden, 3yo, 1700m

TAPIZO (c, 3, TapizarRefugio, by Bernardini) was a debut fourth from two appearances last year at two and made a favorable impression in his sophomore reappearance at Chukyo July 12, finishing a narrow runner-up from a double-digit draw (video, gate 12). The first foal out of a half-sister to MGSW Blofeld (Quality Road), the $100K KEESEP yearling acquisition has the services of visiting Hong Kong jockey Douglas Whyte. Tapizo carries 43 inbreeding to A.P. Indy. B-Mike G Rutherford (KY)

9th-NII, 19,950,000 ($181k), Allowance, 3yo/up, 1800mT

Despite posting just a maiden win (video, gate 2) from his five career starts, GOLD HAT (c, 3, Hat Trick {Jpn}Patti O’Rahy, by Rahy) has never run a poor race and faces elders for the first time here. Sixth, but not beaten far in Group 3 company over 2200m May 6, he exits a razor-thin defeat when third in a May 27 allowance over this trip (video, gate 1). Gold Hat’s second dam, 2014 broodmare of the year and GSW Fun House (Prized), is the dam of champion MGISW Untapable (Tapit) and her Grade I-winning half-brother Paddy O’Prado (El Prado {Ire}). B-Lester Kwok & Dr Naoya Yoshida (KY)

11th-KOK, Kokura Kinen H.-G3, 77,300,000 ($701k), 3/up, 2000mT

STRONG TITAN (c, 4, Regal RansomTitan Queen, by Tiznow) closed his sophomore season on a three-race winning streak, but was unplaced in a pair of starts at group level to kick off his 4-year-old campaign. The bay most recently returned from a five-month hiatus July 15 to set a new Chukyo track record for 2000m with a late surge (video, gate 7). Strong Titan is kin to GSWs Fashion Alert (Old Fashioned) and to Moira Aithon (Jpn) (Lonhro {Aus}), a 69.1 million ($630k) JRHA foal in 2014 and winner of a 1200m allowance at this venue just last Saturday. B-Northern Racing (KY)

Gingernuts to Begin in New Zealand

Te Akau Racing’s Gingernuts (NZ) (Iffraaj {GB}), who nabbed the 2017 G1 New Zealand Derby and the G1 Rosehill Guineas across the Tasman, will make his first start in the G1 Tarzino Trophy S. at Hawke’s Bay on Sept. 2, Racenet.com.au reported Wednesday. Last seen running fifth in the 2400-metre G1 Australian Derby to end his year, the strapping chestnut ran seventh in a 1000-metre trail at Te Teko Tuesday.

He had a nice day out and he’s a lot bigger this time, co-trainer Jamie Richards, who trains with Stephen Autridge, told the New Zealand Racing Desk. He’ll probably trial again and kick off in the Tarzino Trophy at Hawke’s Bay.

Long-term goals for the popular galloper include the 2400m G1 Caulfield Cup on Oct. 21 and the Nov. 7 A$6-million 3200m G1 Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

He’ll be entered for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, and whether he runs on the last two days at Hawke’s Bay before he goes, we’re not sure yet, Richards said.

Te Akau’s full-brother to their Derby hero, Griffin (NZ), a freshly minted 3-year-old gelding who has won his lone start to date, a 1200m maiden at Matamata May 3, also pleased his connections when seventh in a 1000-metre trial at Te Teko.

He just ran home under his own steam and we’re happy with him, Richards added.

15 Years in the Rearview: The 2002 Test

As the 2017 renewal of the GI Test S. draws near, Saratoga’s Saturday patrons would be fortunate to witness a race half as exhilarating as the 2002 edition of the seven-furlong dash. An instant Saratoga classic highlighted by a stretch-long battle between Edmund Gann’s 4-5 favorite You (You and I) and the previously unbeaten New York-bred Carson Hollow (Carson City), the race established the two fillies as local legends and highlighted the brilliance of a number of exemplary careers.

In many ways, it was the perfect race. The blinding early speed of Carson Hollow beneath 2012 Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez stood in sharp contrast to a tardy start that left You and fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey at the rear of the pack. Following a bold inside move by the latter, the stage was set for a dramatic, neck-and-neck stretch run and, in the indelible words of famed NYRA announcer Tom Durkin, a photo finish that doesn’t deserve a loser. In the end, You claimed victory by a nose over her stubborn rival, but together, the pair created an lasting moment in Saratoga history. [Click here for NYRA video]

Aboard the Winner

For Jerry Bailey, the memory of the race remains vivid. Ironically enough, the famed jockey said the tensest moments came well before You engaged Carson Hollow in their prolonged battle to the wire.

I remember every stride of that race, Bailey said. You got off a little bit slowly, and I found myself a lot further back than I thought I would beI kind of bided my time and moved up, and I was right behind [Jorge] Chavez [aboard eventual third-place finisher Spring Meadow]he was off the rail, and I dove down, but just as I did, he started to change paths and come in. I screamed at him because he was going to be interfering with me, and he straightened up and I got through. Velazquez was on the lead with Carson Hollow. I thought there was plenty of room, but when I got there he tightened it upjust race riding. And it stayed so tight.

Bailey admitted that he had some fleeting doubts about his predicament, but ultimately horse and rider proved their mettle.

I said, ‘Oh, man, I’m on a filly. I don’t know how brave she is.’ But she was as courageous as they come, Bailey said. It wasn’t the scariest moment, because with Johnny and I, we were just shoulder-to-shoulder.

Aside from emerging on the winning end of a close photo finish, Bailey’s ride aboard You carried added significance in completing a graded stakes double for the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who also teamed with Bailey to capture the GII Diana H. with Tates Creek (Rahy) two races prior. According to Bailey, the two narrow victories secured him another pair of winning Saratoga mounts on an immensely talented Gann colorbearer in the GII Jim Dandy S. and GI Travers S. later that summer.

The funny thing is, I was trying to get the mount on Medaglia d’Oro, Bailey recalled. Bobby Frankel said, ‘Look, I have two mounts for you this weekend: You in the Test and Tates Creek in the Diana. Kent Desormeaux is riding two for me in California, and whoever does better gets the mount on Medaglia d’Oro.’ I won the Test by a nose and the Diana by a nose.

Bailey would go on to win two more graded stakes aboard You, who retired at the end of 2003 with nine wins from 23 starts and over $2 million in earnings.

A Photo Finish That Doesn’t Deserve A Loser

From Tom Durkin’s perch atop the Saratoga grandstand, the gifted racecaller knew he was witnessing something special as the race played out. A sensational opening quarter-mile carved out by Carson Hollow in :21.60 and a daring move by Jerry Bailey through the narrow opening along the rail were fitting precursors to what ensued in the stretch.

Equipped with over 30 years of racecalling experience at the time, Durkin captured the showdown in perfect fashion: There’s absolutely nothing between them! You’s in so tight! Carson Hollow is unwavering!

And so the Saratoga crowd awaited the results of a dramatic finish that would ultimately yield a well-earned victory and an agonizing defeat.

Sometimes as a racecaller, you say the wrong thing, or you say the thing that doesn’t exactly fit the moment in a split second, but when I said, ‘a photo finish that doesn’t deserve a loser,’ I don’t think I’ve ever said anything truer in my life, Durkin said from Saratoga Springs Thursday. It was a thrilling stretch drive. I don’t know that I’ve ever called one that was more thrilling than that.

When asked what made the race so special, Durkin observed that Thoroughbreds prove their greatness by responding to adversity and finding more in a tight spot. An electrifying finish between two fully extended racehorses can resonate with seasoned racetrackers and casual observers alike.

When you get two horses that have 300 years of breeding and Thoroughbred ‘I’ve got to win this race’ blood coursing through their veins, and they meet like that, it’s just a thrilling thing to watch. Without going over the top, it’s almost inspirational, the Saratoga icon said. I remember people applauding both horses when they came back to be unsaddled. I think everybody at Saratoga that day realized that they had really seen something that was quite special.

Durkin was quick to credit both jockeys for giving their mounts every chance to hit the wire in front. In the case of the previously unbeaten Carson Hollow, the announcer noted that the courageous filly augmented her reputation in defeat.

At first blush, it’s probably the best losing effort I ever sawalmost up there with Seattle Slew in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup, he said. The filly was certainly gallant in defeat.

A Confluence of Saratoga Icons

Bailey, Velazquez, and Durkin, as well as Saratoga’s leading trainer Chad Brownwho was in his first year as an assistant to Bobby Frankel in 2002will all be in attendance at the Spa Saturday. Brown will saddle the undefeated Your Love (Flatter) in the Test; Durkin will be rooting on Breaking Lucky (Lookin At Lucky) as one of the 5-year-old’s co-owners in the GI Whitney S.; and Bailey will be covering both races as part of NBC Sports’ live, on-site coverage.

A large portion of Saratoga’s mystique comes from unforgettable moments featuring diverse human and equine actors, and the 2002 Test leaves an enduring impression as one of the track’s greatest races of all time.