Songbird Ready to Fly in Delaware 'Cap
By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off
Delaware Handicap (G1), fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, one and one quarter miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm EST
Originally dubbed the New Castle Handicap in 1937, this race was stretched to its current mile and a quarter distance in 1951, and took its current name in 1955. It has always been restricted to the distaff division, and over its years has produced some illustrious winners. Its first year at a mile and a quarter Busanda won; Busanda remains a stakes namesake at Aqueduct, and she produced champion and Hall of Fame inductee Buckpasser. Coincidentally, a horse who joined Buckpasser at the top of the three-year-old division in 1966 was also produced by a Delaware Handicap winner – Graustark was out of Flower Bowl (1956), a mare for whom a Grade 1 at Belmont is still conducted. More recently, champions like Blind Luck (2011) and Royal Delta (2012, 2013) have graced the winners’ circle in the Delaware Handicap.
A day will likely come when it makes sense to bet against Songbird...at least in the eyes of this bullheaded longshot player. But, even when the nation’s premier dirt distaffer gives anywhere between nine and thirteen pounds to her foes, this is not that time. Rick Porter, the principal of Fox Hill Farm, hails from Wilmington, Delaware, making this a homecoming of sorts. And, try as the Delaware Park racing office certainly must have tried to lure someone over who could make a race of it? That didn’t quite happen. Weep No More is a Grade 1 winner, yes, but has not seen hit the board in five starts since that stunner in the Ashland over a year ago. Miss Mo Kelly and Martini Glass have some bits of listed stakes form. Line of Best Fit and Hone In have occasionally tried stakes company, but have yet to make it in black-type company.
In other words? If you insist upon playing the Delaware Handicap, you will want to play exotics. Songbird will pay five cents on the dollar in the win pool...and yet, that almost makes sense, as a humdrum effort by Songbird (to the extend that she is capable of humdrum) would still be good enough to eclipse a strong effort by any of her five foes. If she hadn’t tried a mile and a quarter, perhaps there would be a question. But, she won the Alabama (G1) last year at the same distance, and should be able to tackle it again.
So, who’s the best of the rest?
Line of Best Fit has not tried stakes company since 2013, but she is in career form at the age of seven. She has won three of four starts this year in allowance-optional company at Penn National and Parx. The last two wins came with Edwin Gonzalez in the irons; Gonzalez returns today. Of course, this is a large step up from that. But, she won her only start over the Delaware course, back in May of last year. Her connections, trainer Kieron Magee and rider Edwin Gonzalez, have both been solid at Delaware this summer. From a race shape perspective, Line of Best Fit is best coming from just a little off the pace. Songbird likely takes the front-end initiative, but Line of Best Fit should be able to chase her all the way around for second.
Long shot Hone In’s recent form is not much to look at. Trainer Victoria Oliver has been running her on the turf over and over again, despite her having finished on the board just once in eight starts on the grass. Her form has been better over the dirt, which she returns to here. Two starts back, she won an allowance at Indiana Grand in the slop, so the possible rain in the forecast for Saturday will not hurt her. If the course is dry (which is a bit more likely)? She has good races over a dry track as well; she’s not just a slop monster. The distance is a question, as she has never gone a mile and a quarter before. But, being by Smart Strike out of a Tiznow mare, she has plenty of stamina influence close up in her pedigree. There’s enough to like about Hone In, as the likely longest shot on the board, to play her underneath in the Delaware Handicap.
#5 Songbird (1/5)
#4 Line of Best Fit (12/1)
#6 Hone In (15/1)