It's amazing the perspective just one week can give you.
Last week at this time, we were appreciating, among other things, the very impressive stakes victories at Gulfstream Park by a pair of highly talented 3-year-old fillies -- Cathryn Sophia and Catch a Glimpse. Cathryn Sophia's demolition of her Davona Dale field, and Catch a Glimpse's turn of foot in the Herecomesthebride Stakes were displays of high class, and still remain so.
But then Songbird raced again on Saturday in the Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita and reminded everyone that, as much quality as there is near the top of this year's 3-year-old filly division, this much remains the same as it ever was: There is Songbird, and then everyone else.
Songbird was supposed to win the Santa Ysabel, and win it easily. Last year's champion 2-year-old filly was 1-10 Saturday because she was unbeaten and not even remotely tested in her five previous starts. So even with the strong impression that if Mike Smith let her run through the stretch just a little bit, Songbird could have won by triple the 3-3/4-length margin she officially scored by, or, in this particular case, could have run significantly faster than the 1:43.02 for the 1-1/16 miles she was timed in, we're not getting new insight.
But there were a couple of things about Songbird's Santa Ysabel that are noteworthy. For one, the mid-race pace she set of 46.02 seconds to the half and 1:09.98 to the three-quarters was much faster than the day's other two main-track routes, both at the same distance. Older first-level allowance fillies and mares in the very next race went in 46.88 and 1:11.53 before stopping the timer in 1:44.30. And older male conditioned claimers in the finale went in 47.23 and 1:12.08 before completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.99.
Also -- and I'm not suggesting anything about this, simply noting a fact -- Songbird was the only front-running winner in Saturday's six main-track races at Santa Anita.
Cathryn Sophia and Catch a Glimpse are really, really good 3-year-old fillies. I also think Carina Mia, who has yet to start this year, is, too. But Songbird offered us a gentle reminder Saturday that she continues to be in a league of her own.
Other Saturday notes
*I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Shagaf's victory in the Gotham at Aqueduct, but I can't.
The Gotham, like last month's Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, was significantly affected by a profound track bias that favored inside runners, and thus carried speed.
(As an aside, it is important to note once again that what many consider speed biases are actually inside biases. Speed horses naturally gravitate toward the rail once they clear their opponents. In doing so, they often force the closers to make their moves on the outside, moves that become ineffective because those closers are racing on the worst part of the track.)
Shagaf raced close up early and, most notably, on the inside. Shagaf didn't vacate the rail until the stretch, when he moved out to make a successful, grinding late run to best the maiden Laoban, who was only as tough as he was because he was the loose inside speed.
But not only was Shagaf helped by running on the best part of the track for about three-quarters of the Gotham, his final time also was lacking, resulting in an 87 Beyer Figure that I think was a bit generous.
The good news for Shagaf is he handled the jump to two turns and to the stakes level Saturday, is now 3 for 3, and still has every right to improve. He'll have to, however. Shagaf's two wins this year were just plain slow.
A couple of other Gotham thoughts
*I'm reluctant to put too much into this because I don't believe there are legitimately bad trips in slow races. But Adventist and Sunny Ridge, who both ran reasonably well finishing third and fourth in the Gotham, should have their performances moved up. Both ran against the grain of the strong track bias.
As one Twitter user noted to me after the Gotham, Laoban picked up 20 Derby points for his bias-aided second-place finish. That might be enough to get him into the Derby starting gate should more than 20 enter. But if Laoban finishes only fourth in one of the major final Derby preps, then he will have 30 Derby points. That will almost certainly be enough to get him into the Derby. As a maiden.
For what it's worth, Conquest Big E was my lead pick in the Gotham in my Weekend Warrior column, a pick made days before Saturday's powerful track bias was known. That's the bane of the public handicapper's existence. Conquest Big E did not run well finishing fifth, but he lost whatever chance he had with the way the track played. And for the record, entirely because of the compelling way the track was playing, I bet Laoban. So
* I'm going to be skeptical of the Gulfstream Park Handicap result until I see reason to reassess. Valid was making a menacing move when he was almost dropped in the stretch, Stanford lost a race he had no business losing after Valid's trouble, and Blofeld, who had been in the witness protection program for the last 16 months, got up in time. Yeah, I need to see more from this crew.
* Local sharpies have been insisting that Gulfstream's turf course, currently dry and hard, has been carrying speed. So take that into account when you assess the results of the Mac Diarmida, won by Grand Tito (who pressed the pace from the start), and The Very One, won by Olorda (who went wire to wire).
My thoughts are Dacita, who finished a narrowly beaten second in the The Very One as the 3-5 favorite, might be at her best in this country going less than the 1 3/16 miles she had to go Saturday. And I'm not giving up on Mr Maybe, who came from last to finish third as the favorite in the Mac Diarmida. He will win at least one big turf stakes this year.