Once again, Arlington Park does not have a weekend stakes scheduled. That leaves the “Picks & Ponderings” team to once again hit the road, and we’re on another three-day weekend trip. Here’s the line-up, with pieces, authors, and their corresponding links to be added once handicapping materials are available.
Friday Aug. 22: Personal Ensign Stakes (PM)
Saturday Aug. 23: Travers Day (NN)
Sunday Aug. 24: Pacific Classic Day (PM)
For the Friday feature, Picks & Ponderings takes a look at the older fillies and mares on dirt in the Personal Ensign Stakes. Run at all three active NYRA ovals at some point in its history and starting at long-gone Jamaica Racetrack, the Personal Ensign settled into being a Saratoga fixture in 1986. The race was known as the Firenze from its inception in the 1940s until 1986. For its first eleven years upstate, the race was known as the John A. Morris Handicap. In 1996, the race honored the 1988 Eclipse winning champion older female, Personal Ensign, who concluded (in the Youtube video below) an undefeated career of thirteen starts, thirteen wins including a Breeders’ Cup Distaff and a win against males in the Whitney.
Beyond the racetrack, she was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and also became a broodmare of high success, as 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner My Flag was Personal Ensign’s daughter. And Personal Ensign’s granddaughter was 2002 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Storm Flag Flying.
The winner of the Personal Ensign receives a free spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, making this a Breeders’ Cup Challenge and “Win and You’re In” race.
Saratoga Race Course — Race 9 — Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes — 1 1/8 miles on dirt — post time 5:15 pm ET
At the start of the year, the script was that CLOSE HATCHES, Beholder, and PRINCESS OF SYLMAR would all battle for champion honors among female distaffers and their ballyhooed showdown in the G1 Phipps on the Belmont Stakes Day program was a battle royale. The division hasn’t played according to the script, however. Beholder was injured in the Phipps, the PRINCESS was beaten by a lone speed horse last time at Delaware, and it makes CLOSE HATCHES the leader of the division based on two G1 victories, the Phipps and the Apple Blossom. Should CLOSE HATCHES be victorious here, which this space thinks will happen, she’ll have a lock on honors until the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. CLOSE HATCHES proved that if the pace up front gets wicked fast (like it did in the Phipps), she can pull back off it. But, if the pace is slower, she’ll be on the lead dictating the terms. Such tractability will be needed with one-way speeds like MAJESTIC RIVER in the field. A Joel Rosario/Bill Mott jockey/trainer production, they won twice last week in the four times they got together. MORENO got a soft trip in the Whitney earlier this month as the speed of the speed from an inside draw. Perhaps MAJESTIC RIVER can pull a similar theft. MAJESTIC RIVER sat off tepid fractions and then moved on by to annex the G2 Molly Pitcher last out at Monmouth on Haskell Day. With the pace likely quicker, MAJESTIC RIVER could find herself on the front rather than sitting off of it. And that’s fine as she took the lead in the middle stages of prior two-turn races at Monmouth when the paces were quicker. MAJESTIC RIVER does step into the deep waters today, but the form on her has never been better. One of two in here trained by Todd Pletcher. The other is PRINCESS OF SYLMAR, who found ten furlongs too far last time in the G1 Delaware Handicap. Expected at the start of the year to be one of the three amazons in the division, her resume this year is a win in a calculated prep and two seconds in the Phipps (to CLOSE HATCHES) and the DelCap. Cutting back to nine furlongs might help the PRINCESS, and she has two G1 wins as a sophomore last year over the Saratoga dirt. The wide post won’t help her in this event, but she will get honest pace to run down from CLOSE HATCHES and MAJESTIC RIVER. Still, she torched many a ticket as the 1-5 favorite last time in the Delaware Handicap and a second clunker here would do a lot to deflate her fan club. Her popularity will also make her an underlay on the toteboard.
#6 CLOSE HATCHES (8/5)
#3 MAJESTIC RIVER (15/1)
#7 PRINCESS OF SYLMAR (9/5)
Longshot: Likely there will be an honest pace, whether CLOSE HATCHES goes out all alone or gets pressured. #2 STANWYCK (15/1) has become a new horse since hitting dirt and upsetting the G3 Turnback The Alarm last fall at Belmont. The Shirreffs trainee nibbled at the west coast’s major stakes for older mares, and got a podium finish in the G1 Apple Blossom. A wide trip in the local feeder for this race, the G3 Shuvee, might have cost her a victory behind fellow entrant ANTIPATHY. STANWYCK appears the only deep closer in a field of horses that all like to be on or near the lead, and rider Rajiv Maragh in recent days has been lights-out at the Spa.
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