A field of just five will line up and race the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles in Saturday’s $750,000 Delaware Handicap (GI) at Delaware Park, a rare handicap for distaffers, and all eyes will be on dual champion Songbird.
Unfortunately, the race looks on paper to be a one-horse affair and while it’s a dangerous dance with fate to crown winners before races are run, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome than a dominant performance from the Fox Hill Farm color-bearer.
It’s going to be brutally hot and humid in Wilmington on Saturday with highs in the mid-90s and humidity just about as high. Afternoon thunderstorms are expected, so a wet track is likely.
Since it was first contested 80 years ago, the Delaware Handicap has gradually grown in stature and prominence on the racing calendar for distaffers and some exceptionally notable runners have contested the early summer feature. Obeah, in whose name the prep was named and who most remember as the dam of champion and Hall of Famer Go For Wand, won this race twice, as did fellow Hall of Famer Susan’s Girl. Broodmare of the Year Relaxing, who was the dam of Hall of Famer and classic winner Easy Goer, won the Delaware Handicap in 1981 and, most recently, champions Fleet Indian, Blind Luck and Royal Delta took home top honors.
This year, the only horse entered to come close to the level of these names is Songbird — but don’t feel sorry for her. A winning machine, it’s not Songbird’s fault so few will line up next to her in any race, let alone this one. It’s not her fault she’s risen to every challenge tossed at her and is just a whisker shy of perfect, thanks to the wrong end of a photo to the queen (Beholder) whose throne she deservedly inherited.
She is heads and shoulders above any horse in her division at this point, is trained by a Hall of Famer and ridden by another in Jerry Hollendorfer and Mike Smith, respectively. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has speed to control the pace, versatility to sit off if necessary and has arguably never been better. She’s been training lights out in California since she returned from vacation and it just doesn’t make sense to expect defeat here.
Weep No More, who hasn’t won a race or even hit the board since taking the Ashland Stakes (GI) 15 months ago, is who the morning line maker thinks will be second choice judging by her 6-1 early odds vs. Songbird’s 1-5. A nice filly with a lot of talent, she has had trouble reaching the winner’s circle against softer competition and it’s hard to imagine she’ll knock the division leader off her well-earned pedestal. Her best from well back early may earn her a placing in Grade 1 company behind Songbird. Eric Cancel will ride and the pair will break from post three.
Martini Glass calls Delaware Park home during the summer months and she’ll need every ounce of experience over the surface here. The daughter of Kitalpha is coming of a nice second in the Obeah Stakes last out where she earned a career-high speed figure. She’s never gone 10 furlongs — it’s an unusual distance for distaffers — but she has a win over the main track and has been training pretty well here since early May. She’s a mid-pack runner who likes to sit behind the pace, a trip she’ll likely get, but she figures only to pick up only an upper cut of the purse. Top jockey Jose Ferrer will be aboard.
Stakes winner Miss Mo Kelley, who was claimed in April for $50,000, may like the added distance if not the added competition. Against the likes of Songbird there’s not much to say except she’s third or fourth best in this field.
Line of Best Fit and Hone in are allowance horses likely entered in hopes of garnering a Grade 1 placing. Who can blame them, especially with a lot to offer behind the winner’s share of the pot?