Deep Distaff Division Showcased in Personal Ensign
Usually as the summer racing season winds down and the industry refocuses on the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in the fall, the distaff Division ends up feeling like the evil red-headed step child. Rightly so, the Classic division garners much of the attention and support mostly because their female counterparts, while good, are either retired to the breeding shed or sales ring, therefore skipping the Distaff, leaving the remaining talent pool a cut below the best.
This year should be a lot different, as no fewer than a dozen of the best fillies and mares currently in training and are expected to race the first Saturday in November. Leading the division, though she’s never faced older horses, is Fox Hill Farm’s champion Songbird. Undefeated in 10 starts, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has won all of her races in dazzling fashion, turning back all challenges and winning all of her races by open lengths.
Beholder finished a game second to California Chrome in her last start, the $1 million Pacific Classic (GI), after winning the race a year ago, causing trainer Richard Mandella to indicate she’d be back against her own division in the Distaff this year after illness kept her out of the Classic a year ago. Now six years old, it’s safe to say her racing career is winding down and the Distaff is the best place for Beholder to seek out her final win before retirement.
Champion Stellar Wind returned from a long layoff to finish second to Beholder then turn the tables on her a month ago to win the Clement L. Hirsch (GI) at Del Mar in her last start. Trainer John Sadler, who has yet to win a Breeders’ Cup race, believes the Grade I winner is better this year and rounding into form just in time for the Breeders’ Cup. She’ll have one last prep before Racing’s Championship Day and is showing she is a force to be reckoned with.
And those are just the best of the West Coast, even though California-based Songbird went east to win the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) and Alabama Stakes (GI). On Saturday, five of the best older distaffers in the East will show what they’re made of when they line up and face the starter in this weekend’s $750,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (GI) at Saratoga.
Named for the Shug McGaughey-trained champion who retired undefeated in 13 starts after winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the nine-furlong race has carried the name of the popular Phipps Stable color-bearer since 1997 and, though contested at all three NYRA tracks, has found a much-beloved spot near the end of the popular Saratoga season permanently since 1986.
Fans who never got to see Personal Ensign race were blessed that she was as successful as a broodmare, earning the award as Broodmare of the Year in 1996 and producing some great runners and future producers, including Miner’s Mar, Our Emblem, Pennant Champion and My Flag, whose daughter Storm Flag Flying won the Persona Ensign in 2004 wearing the familiar Phipps black and cherry red silks.
After being pensioned in 2006, Personal Ensign died in 2010 at age 26 at her birthplace of Claiborne Farm and was laid to rest in the serene Marchmont cemetery near her father, Private Account, and her mother, fellow Broodmare of the Year Grecian Banner.
Five were entered to contest this year’s Personal Ensign, including Grade I-winning millionaire I’m a Chatterbox, who is riding a two-race win skein. The daughter of Munnings has yet to win over the Saratoga surface and only has one win at the distance, but that’s not to say she’s not capable of visiting the winner’s circle, as her last win in the Delaware Handicap (GI) was at a longer distance and by open lengths. Plus, her one win at this distance — in the listed Obeah Handicap — was by a widening 8 ½ lengths. The Larry Jones trainee has posted three nice works at her home base of Delaware Park since the Delaware Handicap and will again carry regular rider Florent Geroux. Though the innermost post isn’t ideal, coupled with what looks like her preference of being forwardly placed, she shouldn’t have too much trouble being hustled from the gate for good position either on the pace or stalking it in the early going.
Curalina is the 9-5 morning line favorite after her 9 ¼-length romp in the Shuvee Handicap (GIII) and her penchant for both the distance (4-2-1-1) and the Saratoga surface (4-2-1-1), not to mention her tremendous speed figures and connections (owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez). She is also ideally bred for the distance, being a daughter of Curlin. She’s another who likes to stalk the pace, so all she may need is a clean trip to prove best.
Cavorting enters off a 2 ½-length romp in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (GI) and 2 ½-month break. She’s undefeated in three starts over the Saratoga main track and is consistently on the board, but it looks like her best distances are a bit shorter than this nine furlongs. She’s in great hands with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and posted a couple of decent works over the track, but jockey Florent Geroux chooses to stick with I’m a Chatterbox leaving the mount for Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano, which may actually be at least a lateral move. She’s a closer who will get a decent pace in front of her, but she may be challenged by the distance to be bet confidently for the win.
Forever Unbridled has also been off since the Ogden Phipps where she was second to Cavorting that day. She has won one of two starts at the distance, but is making her Saratoga debut for trainer Dallas Stewart. While she’s another who may struggle with the distance, she also is consistent in hitting the board and deserves a long look in the paddock.
Paid Up Subscriber was second to I’m a Chatterbox in the Delaware Handicap last out after winning the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) at Churchill in June. She began her career sprinting successful and was only stretched out this year, winning two around two turns and finishing second in another. She is definitely worth a long look for any exotics picture.
Sprinting Sophomores Take Center Stage in King’s Bishop
The King’s Bishop Stakes is a young stakes relative to the storied histories of most of the events contested at the historic New York oval, but that’s not to say that, over the 32 runnings, some amazing horses have not earned top honors in the seven-furlong dash for 3-year-olds. Commemorate won the first running in 1984 before going on to run second in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) and a whole host of other speedy sophomores have followed.
Two-time champion sprinter Housebuster was victorious in 1990, Forestry won in 1999 and held the stakes record for 16 years, fan favorite Lost in the Fog won in 2005 while Squirtle Squirt in 2001 and Runhappy last year went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
This year, 13 are set to race the seven furlongs, including California shipper Drefong riding a three-race win streak into his stakes debut. The son of Gio Ponti isn’t really bred for the sprint distances or the dirt, but it’s hard to argue with his results winning all of his races by open lengths. He’ll have to hustle under regular jockey Mike Smith to get to his preferred spot on the front end from the outermost post position, but his quick turn of foot won’t be much of a concern.
Mohaymen, who won his first five starts from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, was an early favorite on the Triple Crown trail but now cuts back in distance after three consecutive fourth-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy Stakes. He stumbled badly at the break of the Jim Dandy last out, eliminating all chance of a win, but since his only options are the tough Travers later on the day or this race, his connections opted for this race in search of the elusive Grade I victory. He’s bred to run all day and has proven he’s capable at extended distances, but since this year’s King’s Bishop doesn’t feature any runners the caliber of Runhappy, it’s a good spot for him in search of a return to the winner’s circle. He’s training well and will again have regular jockey Junior Alvarado back aboard and a tactical running style that can put him on the lead or just off it depending on how the pace sets up.
Tom’s Ready made it into the field for the Kentucky Derby off some decent finishes in the spring prep races and after a 12th-place finish under the Twin Spires, returned in a cutback in distance to romp in the Woody Stephens Stakes (GII) at this distance on the Belmont Stakes undercard. He hasn’t raced since that win, but has been training well for Dallas Stewart all meet. Hard to believe this colt is 12-1 on the morning line, so if his odds stay anywhere near that as the horses head to the gate, he’s more than worth the wager.
Fish Trappe Road and Economic Model finished one-two in the Dwyer Stakes (GI) last time out in early July and return together in here. Fish Trappe Road has won twice at the distance while Economic Model seems to prefer farther; Economic Model won his one Saratoga try and Fish Trappe Road makes his debut at the Spa. The pair drew the innermost post positions, but expect Fish Trappe Road to speed to the lead and Economic model to sit just behind.
Summer Revolution has won his first two starts at this distance in maiden and allowance company and steps up today to try graded company. Javier Castellano picks up the mount from Irad Ortiz Jr. for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who sticks with Economic Model, and will most likely be on or just behind the pace after breaking from post three.
Jazzy Times is another talented sprinter shipping in from California for trainer Bob Baffert. It’s a big step up in class despite a 6 ½-length allowance win last out, but this $460,000 son of Discreetly Mine, who is owned by Zayat Stables, would not be in New York if the trainer didn’t believe he had a shot.
The $500,000 King’s Bishop is the 8th race on the card and is expected to leave the gate at 3:35 p.m. EDT.
Older Runners Square off in Forego
Hall of Famer and three-time Horse of the Year Forego (’74 – ’76), though an accomplished router and winner at two turns, including the Woodward Stakes (GI) four times, has in modern racing become synonymous with sprinters and he is honored every year at Saratoga with the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (GI), this year worth $700,000 and carded as the ninth race on the Travers Stakes (GI) undercard.
A field of 12 talented sprinters will go to the gate, including Vanderbilt Handicap (GI) winner A.P. Indian, a nice, well-bred Green Lantern Stables hombred trained by Frenchman Arnaud Delacour. The 6-year-old gelded son of the late Indian Charlie has never lost in three starts at the distance and has won one of two Saratoga starts and has been working lights out at Fair Hill since his last start in late July. Regular jockey Joe Bravo returns and the pair will be looking for a fourth consecutive win after breaking from post postion 11.
Marking was no match for stablemate Frosted in the Met Mile (GI) in June and almost got past A.P. Indian in the Belmont Sprint (GII) last month after spending much of the winter in Dubai, where he won one and finished fourth in the Godolphin Mile (GI). He has been training exceptionally well at Greentree training center next door to Saratoga for months and though he draws the outside, which isn’t ideal considering his preference to be forwardly placed in the early going, if anyone will get him into good position early it’s jockey Joel Rosario. If the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee runs anywhere near the race he put in to finish second to champion Runhappy in the Malibu Stakes (GI) in December, he figures strongly for the win in here.
Anchor Down was no match for Frosted in the Met Mile (GI), in which he finished second, and might have fared better in the Vanderbilt last out with a cleaner trip. He was bumped at the break, trapped on the rail and had very little left for the finish. A cleaner trip under Jose Ortiz for trainer Todd Pletcher may be all he needs.
Post time for the Forego, the 9th race on the card, will be at 4:12 p.m. EDT.
Ladi Eli Makes Long-Awaited Return
Though eight are expected to race in the Ballston Spa (GII), the 12th race on the day with a probable post of 6:20 p.m. EDT, all eyes will be on the miraculous comeback of Sheep Pond Partners’ Breeders’ Cup winner Lady Eli, who battled back from a life-threatening case of laminitis after stepping on a nail following the 2015 edition of the Belmont Oaks (GI). Most people connected to the 4-year-old daughter of Divine Park would have been satisfied with just her survival, so making it back to training and, eventually, racing action is a miracle. She’s undefeated in six starts, including one at Saratoga, and while she’d likely need a race after her nearly 14-month break, she’s been spectacular training for Chad Brown in the mornings. Even at 70 percent, she’ll be tough to beat against this field.