It was an immediate classic, Beholder and Songbird battling to the wire in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. In the end, the 6-year-old champion Beholder beat the 3-year-old Songbird by what couldn’t have been more than a nostril.
It was Beholder’s last race. It was Songbird’s first loss.
Now, less than a year later, Songbird has run her last race.
Owner Rick Porter announced on his Facebook page Thursday that he was retiring the two-time Eclipse Award winner because of injury. This follows her surprise defeat on Saturday in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. She closes her career with 13 wins and two second-place finishes in 15 races. She won almost $4.7 million.
“After this past race, we thought something seemed off in her hind end, so we sent her to Rood & Riddle [Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.] for an evaluation,” Porter wrote. “Her lameness was readily apparent to Dr. [Larry] Bramlage, and ultrasounds proved both hind suspensories were enlarged.”
Bramlage followed up with X-rays, a bone scan and MRI of the area that she struggled with earlier this year.
“Unfortunately, the results weren’t what we wanted to see,” Porter wrote. “We have a situation where it’d be dangerous for Songbird to continue training, and Dr. Bramlage isn’t optimistic that the site will fully resolve even if given ample time.
“So for this reason, we are retiring our lovely Songbird.”
Songbird was heir apparent to legacy of Zenyatta when it came to great fillies and mares. She won virtually every race with ease until the Distaff, her 12th.
Stabled at Santa Anita in the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer, she was thought to be the overwhelming favorite to win the Kentucky Oaks, the female version of the Kentucky Derby, last year. But she contracted a low-grade fever and was taken off the Oaks trail.
She was slow to return to racing in 2017 because of bone bruising as the cautious Hollendorfer made sure she was absolutely sound before returning to the track. Her first race of the year, with regular rider Mike Smith, was June 10 in the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, which she won by a length. A month later, she won the Delaware Handicap, also by a length.
In the Personal Ensign, her loss was possibly because the winner, Forever Unbridled, was so far outside that Songbird couldn’t see her. Most great horses, when challenged, go faster. She lost by a neck.
“While we’re sad that we must retire her, we absolutely cannot risk having another Eight Belles kind of devastation and are ultimately happy that she is retiring in good health,” Porter wrote.
Eight Belles, owned by Porter, was a filly running in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. She finished second but took a bad step after the finish line, broke both ankles and was euthanized.
There was talk early last year of Songbird running in the Kentucky Derby, something that Porter and Hollendorfer never seriously considered.
“Sure, [Eight Belles] entered my mind,” Porter told The Times. “But it had nothing to do with my decision.”
Songbird, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, likely will become a broodmare next year. Porter is the owner of Fox Hill Farm.