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Songbird triumphs; Mike Smith-Bob Baffert combination on fire

Songbird, with Mike Smith up, wins the Breeders'

Songbird, with Mike Smith up, wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies horse race at Keeneland race track Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. Photo Credit: AP / Garry Jones

When his superstar filly, Songbird, lost the lead to Paid Up Subscriber on the stretch turn, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer stared intently at the television screen in the tunnel leading from the paddock.

Mike Smith hadn’t moved yet on the 1-5 favorite, which eased the tension for Hollendorfer. Smith then shook up Songbird in midstretch, when she regained the lead nearing the eighth pole without feeling the whip. She edged away for a length victory over Paid Up Subscriber in the Grade I, $687,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.

As Songbird approached the wire, Hollendorfer gave the thumbs-up sign.

“She ran a very good race,” he said. “I give Mike a lot of credit for the way he rode her. I think he figured he had a lot of horse. I can’t say enough about this filly. We’re blessed to have her. She’d have to be up there on anybody’s list.”

Songbird, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, hadn’t run since suffering her first defeat, by a nose to fellow superstar Beholder on Nov. 4 in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is 12-for-13 lifetime, and the $400,000 winner’s share raised her earnings above $4.1 million for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms. The Southern California shipper paid $2.70 after running 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.24.

Asked whether Paid Up Subscriber’s challenge made him edgy, Hollendorfer said: “Any time when you’re coming off a long layoff, anybody who says they aren’t nervous isn’t telling the truth. I was a little bit nervous, but I was really relieved when she responded for Mike.

“I would say that Mike knew what he had under him.’’

Smith agreed, but with a small disclaimer. He was “not really” ever concerned but added, “You say not really, but yeah, they all get beat. I saw the great Secretariat get beat. But she was ready, mentally and physically.’’

It was only the fifth race on the card, and Smith already had three stakes wins, the first two for trainer Bob Baffert. The 51-year-old Hall of Famer also took the second race, the Easy Goer, on West Coast ($5.70) and the fourth, the Grade I Acorn, on Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman ($6.30). Baffert and Smith struck again in the seventh with yet another betting choice, American Anthem, who paid $5.90 after dominating the Grade II Woody Stephens by 3¼ lengths.

“Mike is in the groove today,” Hollendorfer said. “Bob Baffert is up there in his own right, but Mike is on a roll. If you watch the way he’s riding Baffert’s horses today, he’s helping him.”

Smith raised his arms in triumph on his way to the winner’s circle with Songbird, one of the best fillies to come along this century. He gave his mount all of the credit.

“She is so much smarter as a 4-year-old,” Smith said. “She is one of the most intelligent horses you’ll ever be on. You can ride her with your fingers.’’

Four races later, the unstoppable combination of Smith and Baffert made it 4-for-4 in stakes in the Grade I, $1.2-million Met Mile. Smith shot clear at the top of the stretch on another Baffert favorite, the 4-year-old Mor Spirit, who overpowered runner-up Sharp Azteca by 6¼ lengths. It was Smith’s fifth win in his first six rides.

Mor Spirit, who was 10th in last year’s Kentucky Derby, was timed in a brisk 1:33.71. He paid $7.10 for his third consecutive win and his sixth in 13 starts.

“After the first winner, I thought, well, there’s no donut,” Baffert said. “There’s nothing worse than going somewhere and getting the donut.”

Donut? They owned the bakery

“American Pharoah, I’ll never top that day, but this day is pretty huge for us,” Baffert said. “Our horses were the favorites, but the odds were against us. How can you win them all? It’s incredible. Mike Smith was huge for us.”

Manhattan

Ascend, a 27-1 shot, rallied to take the $1-million Manhattan Stakes for Jose Ortiz. Graham Motion trains the 5-year-old gelding, who paid $57 after running 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.97 in his Grade I debut.

Disco Partner shatters Widener record for 6 furlongs

The turf was very firm, the pace extremely fast, and Disco Partner’s time for 6 furlongs — an insanely quick 1:05.67 — broke the Widener course record by about a second. It was a North American record, and possibly a world mark.

Disco Partner ($11.60) rocketed from eighth early under Irad Ortiz Jr. to take the Grade III Jaipur by a half-length over Green Mask. When race caller Larry Collmus saw the time, he exclaimed, “Holy mackerel!”

The blazing fractions of 21.43, 43.04 and 54.35 seconds almost guaranteed a closer would win, and New York-bred Disco Partner had a full tank to take advantage. The 5-year-old roan blasted home the final quarter-mile in under 22.5 seconds for his fifth win in nine tries on Belmont’s grass.

Last year, despite running his last quarter in 22 seconds, Disco Partner fell a neck short in the Jaipur, when Pure Sensation, now his stablemate, set the course record. Pure Sensation set the pace Saturday and understandably faded to fourth.

“Disco Partner had a great trip,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “Irad has been riding great and he did a good job again today. He had him placed in good position and was able to finish.”

Ortiz had to alter course inside the eighth pole and found a wide seam. “I saved all the ground, and I had horse and I got through,’’ he said. “We split horses and he got there.”

Ascend wins Manhattan

Ascend, a 27-1 shot, rallied to take the $1-million Manhattan Stakes for Jose Ortiz. Graham Motion trains the 5-year-old gelding, who paid $57 after running 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.97 in his Grade I debut.

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