October 2017 Issue - page 6

Page 6
October 2017
by Terry Conway
Where have you gone,
Songbird? That was the tune
the two-time champion's legion
of fans were singing throughout
her 4-year old campaign. The
power and acceleration Songbird
displayed the past two seasons
where she dominated her compe-
tition just wasn't there.
After a pair of narrow
one-length victories early this
summer, the dark bay filly was
run down in the deep stretch by
multiple Grade-1 winner Forever
Unbridled in the $700,000 Per-
sonal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga
Race Course on Aug. 26. After-
wards owner Rick Porter had
seen enough.
“Of course, it's frustrating,
very disappointing, I knew we
had a decent field to run against,"
said a clearly discouraged Porter.
"Something's not right. She is
just not right, and I will get her
checked out. She doesn't let
horses pass her, that was probably
part of it. I am not comfortable
that she is 100 percent healthy.
Anyway, this is not the Songbird
we have been seeing the last three
races, just doesn't seem to be the
same Songbird, it's only right to
have her checked out.
“I thought we would see the
real Songbird today, but we didn't
see it. I just want to make sure it
is not something physical which I
would do with any good horse. I
always do that.”
Songbird was scheduled to
fly out of Saratoga, switch planes
in Louisville, Ky. and then fly
on to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's
barn in southern California. It
never happened. Porter insisted
Songbird be directly vanned to
Lexington and undergo a full
evaluation and testing by Dr. Lar-
ry Bramlage at Rood & Riddle
“Jerry's very upset that I'm
doing it, he said there's definitely
nothing wrong,” said Porter. “I
just want to make sure."
The results of Dr. Bramlage's
examinations were shocking.
Songbird was diagnosed with
damage to her hind suspensories
and a severe bone chip. Porter
retired the filly from racing on
August 31.
According to Dr. Bramlage's
report, subsequent scans re-
vealed "front distal cannon bone
problems" with the shape and
size of the loose chip presenting a
possible catastrophic situation if
Songbird had continued to race.
“Bramlage led her off the
van and he noticed right away
that she was off behind," Porter
said in a phone interview from
his home near Wilmington, Del.
"And, it just got worse. When he
found out she was lame after he
blocked the back, and when he
got to the front end—which he
thinks was caused by the back
end—that was major. He told
me, 'You're looking at a major
catastrophe if you had continued
with her.'
"It's amazing she didn't break
down, because that chip—it's an
unusually shaped chip, which
Bramlage said could break loose
and go down and just explode
the cannon bone. It's amazing the
size of it and the shape of it, and
the shape of it made it so dan-
gerous. What was great is Larry
started examining, then he took
some X-rays and saw a problem
there, and then he said 'I don't
like what I'm seeing. We need to
do an MRI.' That showed how
bad it was and how fortunate we
were to not have another Eight
Belles on our hands.
"I thank God nobody got
hurt. If she had broken down
on the track I'm not sure I could
have handled it. We were very
fortunate and now she has the op-
portunity to become an outstand-
ing broodmare."
Porter's filly Eight Belles suf-
fered catastrophic injuries to both
front ankles while galloping out
following her runner-up finish in
the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Bram-
lage's report stated Songbird "can
be let down and go to pasture
exercise" adding that she would
be re-checked in 60 days.
Dr. Bramlage's evaluation
totally contradicted Hollendor-
fer's statements on the morning
after the Personal Ensign when
he told reporters at his barn that
Songbird was completely sound
and perfectly healthy. Hollen-
dorfer's assistant Christina Jelm
doubled down on the trainer's
"The important thing is that
she is absolutely fine," Jelm add-
ed. "Jerry went over her. There
is nothing that is at all discern-
able. She's in good health and is
relaxed, as she always is coming
out of all her races."
Porter's assistant sent Hollen-
dorfer Dr. Bramlage's report, the
x-rays and scans. In the aftermath
Porter has taken the high road by
not publicly criticizing Hollen-
dorfer, who has been a trainer for
39 years.
"Jerry was shocked," Porter
stated. "I had several racing peo-
ple call me that noticed Songbird
was off in her hind legs in the
post parade for the Personal En-
sign. Larry (Jones) saw it at the
Delaware Handicap, but didn't
want to comment negatively on
another trainer. After the Song-
bird situation, I lost confidence
(in Hollendorfer) and moved
my remaining three horses from
his barn over to (Hall of Famer)
Richard Mandella's barn at Santa
Porter released the following
statement on his Facebook page
on August 31:
“There is an ancient proverb
that says all good things must
come to an end. Today, Fox Hill
Farm announces that something
that was very good for us, and
very good for racing, has come
to an end — the racing career of
Over the winter, Songbird
had bone bruising and a specific
area was very slow to heal. She
was finally cleared to return, but
the three races from Songbird this
year weren't what we expected
from the bigger, stronger, and
smarter Songbird. There were so
many variables with her long lay-
off, shipping, tiring tracks, going
1 1/4 miles, and more, we were
never sure which of the variables
may explain what wasn't quite
After this past race (Personal
Ensign), we thought something
seemed off in her hind end, so
we sent her to Rood & Riddle for
an evaluation. Her lameness was
readily apparent to Dr. Bramlage,
and ultrasounds proved both hind
suspensories were enlarged. Since
suspensories are usually the result
of something else amiss and he
knew of her history, Dr. Bramlage
shot a set of x-rays of the area of
bone Songbird had issues with
over the winter. A distinct line
on the bone was present. We fol-
lowed up with a bone scan, and
then an MRI. Unfortunately, the
results weren't what we wanted
to see. We have a situation where
it'd be dangerous for Songbird to
continue training, and Dr. Bram-
lage isn't optimistic that the site
will fully resolve even if given
ample time.
Catastrophic Breakdown Averted: Bone Chip, Suspensory Issues Retire Songbird
(Continued on page 9)
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