February 15, 2010

Remembering ... Serena's Song

When I think of the term Iron Lady, the first mare that springs to mind is the great D. Wayne Lukas horse, Lady’s Secret, and deservingly so. She was far from the only hickory mare that Lukas trained though. An almost equally tough female, as the Iron Lady, was Serena’s Song. The first time I saw this champion in person was also one of her most memorable races. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was the scene for what was supposed to be the coronation for the great Flanders. No one told this to the other half of the Lukas entry. Serena’s Song did not look nearly as impressive as her entry mate on paper, but horse races are not run on paper. Serena’s Song and Flanders hooked up on the lead soon after the start, and there they would remain every step of the way. The unheralded Serena’s Song ridden by Corey Nakatani on the outside and the undefeated Flanders with Pat Day on the inside battled in unison through testing fractions as the crowd roared. It is rare to see entry mates take each other on so early in the race, but Lukas had told both jockeys that they were on their own and to go for the win. As the fillies straightened out for the stretch run it looked like Serena on the outside might upstage Flanders, but the favored part of the pair was resolute with Day on the rail. It would be a head bobbing battle to the wire. Flanders got the bob, and was declared the winner by half a head, in what remains the greatest juvenile filly race I have ever seen. She claimed her year-end championship, although it was bittersweet as she returned from the race with an injury and would never race again. For the unheralded half of the entry, it was her doorway to superstardom. Never again would Serena’s Song be taken for granted.

Serena’s Song was foaled in 1992, sired by Rahy out of Imagining, by Northfields, she was bred in Kentucky by Dr. Howard Baker. At the yearling sales, Serena was not one of the hot tickets. Her small size kept many buyers away, but her athleticism caught the eye of the premier trainer in the business. Lukas would purchase Serena’s Song for $150,000 for two of his top clients, Bob and Beverly Lewis. The choice would prove to be an incredible success, although early on it was not so clear.

Serena’s Song two-year-old season was a bit inconsistent, but she did manage to win the Landaluce Stakes and Grade 1 Oak Leak Stakes on the West Coast before her epic battle with Flanders. She also displayed the toughness and durability that would make her a true star. As a juvenile, Serena’s Song started 10 times, and won 4, earning almost $600,000. After her fabulous performance in the BC Juvenile Fillies, Serena‘s Song returned in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet Stakes. She once again dueled on the lead, this time with the highly regarded Urbane, and this time she came out on top. By the end of the 1994 season, she was considered the best young filly not named Flanders. Her winning ways would continue into the Spring of her sophomore season.

Serena’s Song became dominant at age three, winning 9 of 13 starts. Her connections showed little worry in running against males, as she bested them in the Jim Beam at Turfway Park and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. She would also handle older females in the prestigious Beldame, in this superlative season. After an easy win in the Jim Beam, which followed impressive wins in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks, Lukas planned on sending his star filly to the Kentucky Oaks, but was overruled by owner Bob Lewis, who had not yet won the Kentucky Derby. Lewis would have two Derby wins in his future, but it was not to be for Serena. In the Derby, Serena’s Song blistered the track with fractions of :22 2/5, :45 4/5, 1:10 1/5, and 1:35 3/5 for the mile. It proved to be too much for the great filly, as she tired and finished 16th. The Derby did not knock her out for long as she returned soon to take the Mother Goose and readied herself for another attempt against the boys. The opportunity came about in the Haskell, and yours truly watched in admiration as she beat the boys again. I remember watching her and thinking how low she held her head as she ran. Many top horses have run this way, but it especially struck me that day at Monmouth Park. It was just another way this special filly stood out. She went on to win the Gazelle and Beldame that Fall, further proving her dominance in the division. Her season ended in disappointment with a 5th place finish in a wet BC Distaff at Belmont Park, but nonetheless, Serena’s Song was rewarded for her remarkable season with an Eclipse Award as champion three-year-old filly.

As an older horse, Serena’s Song continued to rack up frequent flyer miles as well as earnings. She was entered in seemingly every big race for older females as well as several more tries against males. She did not win nearly as often as she did at three, but she still managed to further her Iron Lady reputation. At four, she won five out of fifteen races including three grade 1s and was second seven times, including the Whitney and the BC Distaff. Winless in her final seven starts, although 2nd in six of those races, it was clear that Serena’s Song was a bit of a tired horse at the end of her four-year-old season. Much discussion about her returning for a fourth season ensued, but in the end, they decided she had done enough. At retirement Serena's Song stood as the richest female racehorse in American history when she called it quits with more than $3.2 million. Just like all earnings records, it has since been broken, but to hold the record at all was a huge accomplishment. All told, Serena’s Song was victorious in an amazing 17 graded stakes and was second in many more, in only three years of racing. She received her ultimate honor when she was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

In her second career, Serena’s Song has also proven a terrific success. Upon retirement, Serena’s Song was sent to Denali Stud near Paris, Kentucky to begin life as a broodmare. Among her offspring are three stakes winners. Sophisticat and Grand Reward both by Storm Cat and Serena’s Tune by Mr. Prospector have carried on the name of Serena’s Song quite well. Of course she will always be best remembered as a runner, and for good reason. Her sophomore season may have been her most successful, but she was a model of consistent excellence throughout her career and was as durable as they come. She fell just one win short of winning half of her 38 races, and I can’t think of another horse, in the last twenty years, who danced every dance quite as often as she did. She was tough as nails. I remember you Serena’s Song.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

hey brian...couldnt agree with you more..she was just a pleasure to watch run....i remember that derby with the fractions she ran, you would think that knocked her out but she came back stronger...great article...keep up the good work

Samantha said...

Brian,

I remember her very well. Loved her as a yearling, the only thing I wrote on my page was "A". Unfortunately, I had limits on spending.

The race in the starlet was a heartbreak. It was Urbane's first race going 2 turns and she was very green. When Corey Black (yes, corey black) asked her in the stretch, she took off and came up the tiniest of noses short. If you can find the race anywhere to watch, do.

Eddie D rode her for the first time in the SA oaks and we came up a neck short in another thriller. Eddie told us after the race that if he had ridden her before he wouldn't have lost. That really helped.

Personally, I think D. Wayne decided to run in the derby when we won the Ashland in a gallop. I watched him watch her coming back and I knew he thought "how am I going to explain it when she beats me in the Oaks." He had nothing to lose and everything to gain in the Derby.

Urbane got hurt in the Oaks when Eddie was waiting to move. when we got her back to the races, she remembered and was scared of being in close quarters. We put her in a few easy spots to get her confidence back. As long as she was in front and could see everybody she was happy. We were going to run against Serena the day before the Preakness that next year, but the weight was stupid, we were only getting one pound. We then won the Delaware Handicap and the now Personal Ensign.

~Samantha Siegel

Brian Zipse said...

Thank you Anonymous.

Samantha,

Thanks so much for your interesting memories. I actually was a big fan of Urbane and her sire Citidancer, beautiful horses. She will be a feature on my site sometime soon. I will send you a copy when I do. It is great to see her offspring doing well...I was at Arlington when Suave overpowered the field.

Good luck on Saturday with Worldly.

Dan said...

Great mare. At her best, Serena's Song would have given Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra all they could handle.

LDP said...

When I mentioned this filly in a post I wrote on my blog, comparing her and RA, I remember reading about how frequently Serena's Song would run and how often she finished in the top three. Ten Starts at two today is unthinkable, especially when you consider that the juvenile champion himself LAL race a little more than half that much, and that Zenyatta, who was five, raced half that much. Just from reading I could tell what a great horse she was.

Then, before you posted today I watch the video of her Haskell, and that race, up until the final sixteenth of a mile was as close to a carbon copy as a person will see of RA's own Haskell. It's such a shame she is not talked about or given as much respect as others, because she definitely deserves it.

Jack Straw said...

Flanders raced in the BC Juvenile Filly on only Three good legs. That was the only reason for it being such a close race.

Having seen Flanders in person break her maiden and then win the Spinaway at Saratoga, she was a stone cold freak - I would have loved to see them tussle again as 3 yr olds - but Flanders was retired.

Just a different perspective as I remember the race for different reasons and couldn't believe Flanders didn't draw off until learning of her injury.

Brian Zipse said...

Jack Straw,

It would have been very interesting to see them both at three...who knows what would have happened. By the way, I like your taste in music.

mvlach77 said...

I miss the days when the great horses like Serena's Song would run over ten races a year.