Two of this year's top distaffers started in Saturday's Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga, and the pair met at the head of the lane for an all-out battle to the wire. Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables and Allen Racing's Midnight Bisou laid her heart on the line to nose out 4-5 favorite Elate in a photo finish, just getting her whiskers down on the wire for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute remains undefeated through six starts in 2019, and her trainer Steve Asmussen also sent out the third-place finisher She's A Julie.
Sent off as the second choice at 8-5, Midnight Bisou ran nine furlongs over Saratoga's fast main track in 1:47.92. The victory earns Midnight Bisou an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Distaff this fall at Santa Anita Park.
“Two great mares hooked up at Saratoga in a Grade 1. A beautiful day, a beautiful setting, and two great mares,” Asmussen said. “The filly didn't run her best races here last summer [in the Alabama and Coaching Club American Oaks] and she came into this one in great form. And for her to win here at Saratoga against Elate in the Personal Ensign, at a mile-and-an-eighth…check marks.”
Breaking from the rail, Midnight Bisou left with the field but eased back into last behind her five rivals before rounding into the clubhouse turn. Meanwhile, Coach Rocks grabbed command with She's A Julie and Elate also jostling for early position. Golden Award got hung five-wide early on and Wow Cat managed to duck over to save ground, while Midnight Bisou enjoyed an uninterrupted run through the first turn.
“I wasn't necessarily surprised that Elate was where she was early and I had to run her down because Elate's been in front of me every time I've ridden [Midnight Bisou against] her,” said Smith. “I think his [Jose Ortiz, rider of Elate] game plan was to hopefully hold me down in there, which was a wonderful game plan and the thing to do. I just was able to get out in two jumps, which hardly doesn't ever happen. I was very blessed that worked out that way because I didn't want to be pinned down in there. With carrying the extra weight I knew it was going to take me a bit to get her running. She's not as big as Elate is, so I was glad I got clear.”
Coach Rocks held a 1 1/2-length advantage down the backstretch, but Jose Ortiz guided Elate out to challenge rounding the far turn. Smith was clocking Elate from the rear of the field and followed her, going four-wide to draw alongside at the head of the lane.
Midnight Bisou was out in the center of the course but had her mind set on running, and Smith angled her up alongside Elate in the stretch. Elate was game through the wire, but Midnight Bisou knew where the finish line was and made sure to get her nose there first in an epic renewal of the Personal Ensign. Elate had to settle for second, while it was several lengths back to She's A Julie in third. Wow Cat finished fourth.
“The mare ran a tremendous race,” Smith continued. “It was a fight to get by Elate, who is a champion in her own right. With the extra four pounds there it took me a bit to get going, but once I got her going I was really happy that she handled the mile-and-an-eighth. I thought I got there at the wire, but there have been times before when I thought I did and didn't. You don't know the 'bob' exactly, but I felt like I got it anyway. I'm happy to know that I did.”
Bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds, Midnight Bisou is out of Grade 3 winner and multiple stakes winner Diva Delite (Repent). She did not meet her reserve when bidding stopped at $19,000 in the Keeneland September sale, and later sold for $80,000 at the OBS April sale as a juvenile. Third in the Kentucky Oaks as a sophomore, Midnight Bisou wound up third again in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff behind divisional rival Monomoy Girl. This season, however, the filly is undefeated in six starts. Overall, Midnight Bisou has won 11 of her 16 starts and never finished worse than third, earning over $3.2 million.
“I thought she got the head bob but we were running against a big filly and she had size on us,” said winning owner Jeff Bloom. “But it's Mike [Smith] and he told us a long time ago that our filly knows how to win and she proved that today in a huge way. What a battle.
“The (distance) was never a question for me. That was an easy thing for everyone to say because she was undefeated at 1 1/16 miles. I think 1 1/8 miles is even better. I think if you look at the few circumstances around the races that weren't 1 1/16-miles, there were reasons for the loss, not because of the distance. I was so glad we could run in another 1 1/8-miles and prove that.”
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