STANTON, Del. -- Songbird's appearance in the Delaware Handicap generated a lot of regional enthusiasm, but the frequently heard lament was that it was a shame a stronger group of rivals couldn't be rounded up to take her on. As it turned out, Martini Glass gave the two-time champion all she could handle.
Songbird went right to the lead with Mike Smith high in the irons in the 1 1/4-mile Del Cap. She was allowed to dictate her own pace on a clear lead, and clicked off even splits of 24.26, 48.36 and 1:12.63 with Martini Glass sitting in second position a length and a half or two behind.
The complexion of the race began to change on the far turn when Martini Glass started to advance on the outside. Following a mile in 1:37.50, she was lapped on Songbird entering the stretch.
Songbird spurted a length or so but Martini Glass was resolute and Mike Smith had to go to work on the two-time champion. First he threw the reins at her, then he went to a left-handed whip. In mid-stretch, the on-track crowd sensed a huge upset was possible
Smith hit Songbird 10 times in the final three-sixteenths of a mile and she turned back her challenger, winning by a length.
Songbird is now 2-for-2 as a 4-year-old. She held Paid Up Subscriber safe by a length to win the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 10, but lacked the explosiveness that she showed in her races at 2 and 3. The same could be said of her effort in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap.
Smith admitted he was concerned during the stretch run.
"We knew this was going to be tough, to go 1 1/4 miles off only one race," Smith said. "I had to ride her a little today."
The victory was the third in the Del Cap for Smith, who had previously won in 2012 and 2013 on Royal Delta. The all-time leading rider in the race is Angel Cordero Jr. with four wins.
"This is a hard race to win," Smith said. "I was 1-2 with Royal Delta in 2012 and we won by a neck. It was a tiring racetrack today."
Rain on Friday left the track a little sticky Saturday morning. At post time, the surface was certainly deeper than what Songbird trains over in California. Hollendorfer said he was actually glad it rained so that the track wasn't cuppy.
"I thought it was a good race," Hollendorfer said. "With only one out this year, to go 1 1/4 miles over a deep track, and having to ship twice across the country, I thought it was a creditable job on her part."
The win was the third for Hollendorfer in the Del Cap. He sent Blind Luck out to defeat Havre de Grace in 2011 and won it in 2008 with Hystericalady. Todd Pletcher and Henry Clark are the winningest trainers in the race's 80-year history, each having won it four times.
Owner Rick Porter also said he was getting worried during the stretch run.
"We were a little nervous at the eighth pole, but we won and that is all that matters," Porter said.
The victory was meaningful to Porter, who has been ill with cancer for more than a year. A native of Wilmington, Del., Porter had previously finished second, beaten a nose, with Havre de Grace during her Horse of the Year season in 2011, and fourth with Jostle in 2001.
"I finally won the big race," he said.
Songbird paid $2.10 to win in the five-horse field, the lowest payoff in the history of the race. She also paid $2.10 to place and $2.10 to show. Of the $241,367 wagered to place, $213,891 was on Songbird. In a show pool of $1,646,563, $1,594,737 was bet on Songbird.
Songbird's final time was 2:03.96. She ran her final quarter mile in 26.46 seconds.
Martini Glass, who is locally based with trainer Keith Nations, earned a well-deserved Grade 1 placing. It was two lengths back to Line of Best Fit in third.
Songbird will be headed back to Hollendorfer's California stable. He is uncertain where she will run next, but said the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, a 1 1/8-mile race at Saratoga on Aug. 26, is a possibility.
"I'm not sure what's next," Hollendorfer said. "There are races all over the country for this filly. Saratoga is definitely a target. We will see how she comes out of this race."