Greatness is very difficult to define, perfection a bit easier.
When a horse never loses and it's never close, it is, at the least, exceptional. What we know after the Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing on Saturday is that Songbird is every bit as good as her record said she was.
Facing two very accomplished 3-year-old fillies in Carina Mia and local hero Cathryn Sophia, Songbird raced the former into defeat and never let the latter get close.
Songbird, bet down to 1-5, was, as always, in perfect position during the mile-and-a-sixteenth race, sitting second just behind Carina Mia's moderate pace. Cathryn Sophia was a few lengths back in fourth and then third.
For a second on the far turn, it looked as if there might be an actual horse race in the stretch. Then jockey Mike Smith asked Songbird to run and it was over, separation instantaneous, two lengths at the eighth pole, 53/4 lengths at the wire, making the filly a perfect 11 for 11 as she heads for the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Distaff and a showdown with the older superstar mare Beholder.
"I just don't think you can top this horse," owner Rick Porter said in the winner's circle. "She's remarkable."
Porter, the Wilmington car dealer who has been struggling in recent months with lymphoma, has had so many good horses, including a horse of the year. But he has never had a horse win the first 11 races of her career by a combined 60 lengths.
Porter sent his filly west to be trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. She has won seven times in California, twice in New York, once in Kentucky, and now in Pennsylvania, not far from Porter's home. The Cotillion was always on the schedule because Porter really wanted his great filly to have a "home game."
Carina Mia was second, Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia another 63/4 lengths back in third.
Songbird paid $2.60 to win and ran the distance in 1:44.02, moderate time. The filly never runs particularly fast, but none of the other 3-year-old fillies can come close to keeping up with her.
There was no reason to run Songbird in the Pennsylvania Derby, which came right after the Cotillion. But it is hard to imagine she would not have beaten the boys too.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners were the headliners in the $1.25 million Pa. Derby. In their seventh meeting, Nyquist and Exaggerator were just one position apart at the finish, but the positions were sixth and seventh, respectively, as 10-1 Connect charged up the rail under jockey Javier Castellano to win, beating Gun Runner by a half length with 61-1 Wild About Deb third.
Connect ran the mile-and-an-eighth in 1:50.20. It was his first try in a graded stakes race. Trained by Chad Brown, who just set a Saratoga record with 40 wins at the summer meet, Connect is a son of two-time horse of the year Curlin.
Preakness winner Exaggerator never made any impact. Derby winner Nyquist was third early, just off the early pace. The colt moved up near the lead at the top of the stretch, but could not sustain his move and faded badly in the stretch.
"Mario [Gutierrez] had him in a perfect spot," said Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill. "He just didn't have it."