Meeting An Old Friend
With the Saratoga meet in full swing, excitement circulates the town. In horse racing, it’s the “most wonderful time of the year.”
While we welcome the class of 2016 2-year-olds, you may see an old, familiar face on the racetrack. Does the name Songster hit a high note for you?
The dark bay (nearly black) thoroughbred with a distinctive blaze and a white eye accompanying trainer Tom Albertrani’s horses to and from the track was once in the same shoes as the youngsters he is helping keep calm now.
As a stablemate of the 3-year-old Eclipse winner Bernardini in 2006, Songster was owned by Darley Stable and was one of the fastest sprinters my father ever trained. He earned $377,028 in his career and was a multiple graded stakes winner, having captured the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes (Gr. 3) and Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup Stakes (Gr. 2) at age three and the Bold Ruler Handicap (Gr. 3) at age four.
I was 12 years old when Songster was in the barn and would visit him more than any other horse -- he just loved attention. If you walked past his stall he would nicker for you to come greet him. My dad would have to drag my sister and I out of the barn to go home because we never wanted to leave Songster’s side.
One morning during training, Songster kept nickering and making noise as my my dad walked by his stall. When my dad turned around, Songster had a huge pile of straw all over his head. Dad said, to him “You wanted to be blonde today, Songster?” His personality was as if he was a dog stuck in a horse’s body. Not only was he a talented racehorse with top class speed, he was also an intelligent horse with a spunky spirit.
After a successful career, Songster was retired to stud. He went to Darley Stud in Lexington, KY (Songster's breeding ad), but his second career was short-lived due to sterility issues. He attempted a racing comeback (Bloodhorse article on Songster's return to racing) but was ultimately retired to Farnsworth Farm in Ocala, FL to enjoy the rest of his days grazing in an open field and relaxing.
Over the years, I often asked my dad what Songster was up to and suggested we try to get him back. I knew his racing days were over because he was too old, but thought maybe we could retrain him to be a pony. The thought always stayed in my mind, but I knew it probably wouldn’t be possible.
Oddly enough, we ran into the owners of Farnsworth Farm at Gulfstream Park, and I immediately asked them how Songster was doing. I let them know he was my favorite horse growing up and that I was willing to buy him. They said Songster was one of the coolest horses they had ever seen and that he was spending his days out in a field, but they would be more than happy to let us take Songster back and try to make him into a “pony”.
A couple weeks later, my dad and I took a trip to the Ocala Breeder’s Sale and decided to visit Songster at the farm. As we pulled up, we saw the beautiful dark horse with that distinctive blaze. The moment we stepped out of the car he walked towards us and starting nickering for attention. This was the first time my dad and I were seeing him in 10 years and he was the same old Songster. The moment we went up to pet him my dad instantly reconnected. He turned to me and said, “We have to take him back and give it a try.”
Before we knew it, Songster was back in the Albertrani barn at Palm Meadows Training Center. He adjusted easily to the western saddle from his formative years under racing tack and we began acclimating him with Palm Meadows, but this time in the role of the stable pony.
The same Songster with a feisty character emerged, just with more maturity than that of the 3-year-old colt he was. His intelligence enabled him to adapt to his new life as a pony very easily and he really took a liking to his new role. He understands his position and even follows his rider on the ground without being led.
Songster is now in Saratoga and will be accompanying the racehorses back and forth to the track each morning and spending his afternoons grazing in the open field at Godolphin’s adjacent private training facility. When Songster first arrived at chilly Saratoga from the balmy climate of Florida, he put on a performance caught on video by the assistant trainer. The moment he was turned loose in the paddock, he began bucking, kicking and squealing in such a playful manner that you could see that the “spirit of the racehorse” never really left him.
As Songster’s story shows, retired racehorses can still enjoy the connection to the busy racetrack lifestyle. Oftentimes the work-driven Thoroughbred even benefits from having a job following their racing careers. Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Funny Cide, and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, Work All Week, are two other recently retired racehorses who became ponies when their racing days were completed.
If you’re on the Saratoga backside this summer, chances are you’ll see our “big dog” at work.