In ‘human’ sports a premium is placed on ‘playing hurt’ and ‘gutting it out’. That isn’t the case in horse racing where the top trainers place a premium on the health and well being of their equine athletes. As tough as it is to miss a big race more often than not trainers do what is in the best interest of the horse. That was the case earlier this week when Songbird was withdrawn from consideration for the Kentucky Oaks.
The Kentucky Oaks takes place the day before the Kentucky Derby and is a major Grade 1 event for three year old fillies. Songbird would have been the odds on favorite in the race. That was until she developed a low grade fever after her last race and will need treatment and rest to recover. Fortunately, she’s expected to make a full recover but as owner Jerry Porter explained there just isn’t time to get her better and get her ready to race on the first Friday in May: “We have to report that Songbird will miss the Kentucky Oaks. She developed a low grade fever after the [Santa Anita] Oaks and has not been able to go to the track. With the fever not resolved, she was started on a course of antibiotics today, and as a result it’ll be another seven-10 days before she’s able to return to the track. We are sorry to have to miss the Oaks but what’s most important is to get Songbird well.”
Songbird won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies and is already the favorite in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She’s also the #5 favorite in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic at 15/1. Undefeated in seven career races, Songbird was diagnosed with the fever coming off of Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer says that the first priority is to get Songbird back to 100%. At that point they’ll figure out the plan for the rest of her three year old season: “Like most of the things that happen, we try to catch it right away. She just showed up with a temperature one morning. It never got to be a huge temperature, just a low grade one. We think she’ll be fine. She can’t train right now. Our point race was the Oaks and we’re not going to make that race. Once we get back to training, we’ll pick another program for her. There are plenty of races to run. What matters the most is taking care of Songbird. Things didn’t go perfect and we still have a great future with Songbird. We won’t take any chances and we’ll be conservative with her.”
While Hollendorfer wouldn’t speculate on the next race for Songbird one obvious option is the Grade 1 $750,000 Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard. That would give her plenty of time to recover and get back into training.