SARATOGA SPRINGS – She was a nose away from being undefeated through 14 career starts, a superstar who had achieved cult status. On paper, Saturday’s Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes looked like a sure thing for Songbird. Except that there is no such thing, especially at Saratoga, “The Graveyard of Champions.”
Despite setting leisurely fractions on a clear lead under Mike Smith, just as she was expected to do, Songbird tired in the final 100 yards. Forever Unbridled, who was last on the backstretch, surged down the middle of the track and passed the 2-5 favorite three strides from the wire. The margin was a neck.
“Got to take the good with the bad, you can’t always win,” Smith said. “When I asked her heading for home, she accelerated. She’s not supposed to get run down, but she got run down.”
The late money hammered Forever Unbridled from 6-1 to 2-1 in the field of four. Joel Rosario took her four-wide into the stretch and way out to the 8-path, “sitting like a statue,” as the Equibase chart said. Rosario hand-rode her from the eighth pole after never using the whip.
“I saw turning for home that she was going better than Songbird,” said Rosario, who acknowledged he went wide because he didn’t want to get next to the 2016 Eclipse Award-winning filly and go head to head. “You saw at the end how Songbird tried to battle back.”
Forever Unbridled, a 5-year-old mare trained by Dallas Stewart, ran 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:49.16. She paid $6.20 for her seventh win in 16 starts and earned $420,000 for Charles Fipke.
Songbird is 13-for-15, with her other loss to Beholder in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She had to work hard in her first two races this year.“Maybe she can’t get any better,” Smith said. “Sometimes they get better. Maybe she stayed the same.”
Owner Rick Porter suggested it may be a physical problem.
“It’s frustrating, very disappointing,” Porter said. “The Songbird we’ve seen in these three races this year is not the same Songbird. Something’s not right. She’s just not right, and I will get her checked out.”