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Midnight Bisou extends win streak to six in Personal Ensign

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Midnight Bisou kept her perfect record this season intact by running down fellow multiple Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire Elate through an epic stretch battle and emerging a nose in front at the wire in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti at Saratoga Race Course.

The 70th running of the 1 1/8-mile Personal Ensign for fillies and mares 3 and older on the main track was the fifth of seven graded-stakes, six of them Grade 1, worth $4.8 million in purses on a blockbuster 13-race program highlighted by the 150th renewal of the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.

Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables and Allen Racing’s Midnight Bisou extended her win streak to six races since opening her 4-year-old campaign in January, completing the distance in 1:47.92 over a fast main track. Elate, the 4-5 favorite in an accomplished field of six, was 8 ¾ lengths ahead of She’s a Julie – Midnight Bisou’s Grade 1-winning stablemate also trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen – in third.

“Two great mares hooked up at Saratoga in a Grade 1,” Asmussen said. “A beautiful day, a beautiful setting, and two great mares.”

Grade and Group 1 winner Wow Cat checked in fourth, followed by graded-stakes winners Golden Award and pacesetter Coach Rocks. Sent off as the 8-5 second choice, Midnight Bisou returned $5.40 for a $2 win bet.

It was the 11th career win and fifth in Grade 1 company from 17 lifetime starts for Midnight Bisou, earning the daughter of 2007 champion sprinter Midnight Lute an automatic berth to the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff November 2 at Santa Anita.

Coach Rocks, second by a length behind Midnight Bisou in the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher July 20 in the last start for both fillies, was quickest from the gate under Luis Saez and took the field through a quarter-mile in 23.46 seconds, a half in 47.88 and six furlongs in 1:11.58. She’s a Julie pressed the pace in second with Elate in the clear three wide and Midnight Bisou biding her time at the rear.

Elate and regular rider Jose Ortiz launched their bid midway on the far turn and assumed the lead as Coach Rocks weakened. Hall of Famer Mike Smith tipped Midnight Bisou to the far outside and followed Elate’s move, setting up the highly anticipated stretch duel. As their rivals began to fade into the background, Midnight Bisou came with a steady run and set her sights on a determined Elate, not edging past until the final moments.

“The mare ran a tremendous race,” Smith said. “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.”

Winner of the Grade 1 Alabama in 2017, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred Elate suffered her third career tough beat at Saratoga. She was a neck behind Abel Tasman’s stakes-record 1:47.19 performance in last year’s Personal Ensign, and lost by a head in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks prior to her Alabama triumph.

Bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds and purchased for $80,000 as a 2-year-old in training in April 2017, Midnight Bisou earned $375,000 for the victory, pushing her lifetime bankroll to $3,255,000. The Personal Ensign marked her first win at Saratoga after finishing second in the Coaching Club American Oaks and third in the Alabama last summer, and her first in four tries at 1 1/8 miles.

“The filly didn’t run her best races here last summer 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,” Asmussen said. “I have a ton of respect for the effort she gave today. We’ll evaluate how she’s doing. I do think she is the leader of the division.”

Run as the Firenze from 1948-85 and the John A. Morris from 1986-97, the Personal Ensign was renamed in honor of the undefeated champion filly owned and bred by Ogden Phipps. Her dramatic victory in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff capped a 13-0 career, making her the first major horse in more than 80 years to accomplish the feat. Personal Ensign was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1993, followed 11 years later by her trainer, Shug McGaughey.

Ballerina

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Taking charge in the stretch, Come Dancing came prancing across the finish line to win the $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

The 41st running of the Ketel One Ballerina, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November at Santa Anita Park, was one of seven stakes and six Grade 1s on a packed card highlighted by the 150th Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.

The seven-furlong Ballerina for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward was whittled to five starters after the scratches of Pacific Gale and Mint to Stardom.

Sent off as the 3-5 favorite, Blue Devil Racing Stables’ Come Dancing sat off the early pace set by Separationofpowers and Mia Mischief. The early fractions were 23.31 seconds for the quarter and 45.86 for the half-mile on the main track rated fast. Come Dancing, under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, made her move around the turn and took command, winning by 3 ½ lengths in 1:21.48.

Trainer Carlos Martin said he felt confident throughout.

“When I saw her just sit out there in third, I said, ‘She’s so comfortable.’ When she gets into that comfortable rhythm, it means she has a lot left coming back,” said Martin. “She trained so brilliantly the whole time here. Sitting around the turn, I felt pretty comfortable.”

So did Castellano, even with a start that wasn’t so great.

“She didn’t break sharp out of the gate. I took my time to move up and control the race,” said Castellano. “She’s a wonderful filly and she’s so kind. You can do whatever you want with her. In the stretch, she proved she was much the best the way she did it.”

Come Dancing ran second in her last race, finishing 3 ½ lengths behind Midnight Bisou in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 8. Come Dancing opened her 5-year-old year with back-to-back wins, first with a 7 ¾-length romp in the Grade 3 Distaff Handicap. The daughter of Malibu Moon followed with a 6 ¾-length victory in the Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont on May 5.

The win marked the first Grade 1 for Martin, now 50, since he became the youngest trainer to win at the top level in New York, when Buy the Firm captured the 1991 Top Flight.

“I was thinking we won a Grade 1 at Saratoga and we kept the Martin family and the Blue Devil family in a good frame of mind going into the Breeders’ Cup,” said Martin. “I think she’s shown that, when given time between races, that she fires her best shot.”

Come Dancing, with her seventh win in 12 career starts, returned $3.50, $2.80 and $2.30. Dawn the Destroyer was second and returned $6.10 and $3.70, with Special Relativity yielding $4.20 to show. Separationofpowers was fourth and Mia Mischief fifth. The five-horse field matched the smallest for the Ballerina since 2009.

“We’re thrilled to be second. It’s a Grade 1 and she’s so well bred and a beautiful filly, so Johnny did a great job trying to win and got second,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Dawn the Destroyer. “She put in a big run, but a very nice filly won it. Congratulations to Carlos Martin and his team.”

Sword Dancer

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Annals of Time came from far off the pace to capture the 45th running of the Grade 1, $850,000 Sword Dancer and complete his comeback from an injury that sidelined him for almost two years as he prevailed by a neck at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.

The victory, which was the first top level score for the 6-year-old horse owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence since he won the 2016 Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar, also guarantees him an all-expenses paid berth in the starting gate for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Santa Anita Park as part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.

Annals of Time, who had never before traveled as far as the 1 ½ miles distance of the three-turn test over the inner turf course, was game in victory, holding off by a neck the hard-charging Sadler’s Joy, who was attempting a comeback of his own after winning the 2017 edition of the Sword Dancer and finishing 6th last year in this spot. Channel Cat was third, another two lengths behind.

“When he tipped out, I thought we had a good chance because he has a really good, strong closing kick. But it was a little tight near the finish. I’m glad he got up in time.” said defending three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, who earlier in the day won the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa with Significant Form on the 150th Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers card offering six Grade 1 races and one Grade 2 affair.

“It’s been a real team effort. A guy named Nick de Meric down in Ocala picked him out as a baby, and every time he has gone to the sidelines, he’s gone to rehab with him and his team. He sent him back to us, now as a 6-year-old, in fine shape. We finally have had an uninterrupted training schedule and campaign with him. He’s back to his old form when he won the [Grade 1] Hollywood Derby when he was a 3-year-old. He’s probably better now, so I’m just so grateful to have him back healthy,” Brown continued.

Brown also saddled Ya Primo, was raced up on the pace and led the field into the home stretch, and Proven Reserves, who figured to race on the lead but was never a factor in the outcome. Ya Primo wound up last in the nine-horse field and Proven Reserves finished seventh.

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who also won the Grade 1, $400,000 Ketel One Ballerina on Come Dancing on the card, gave Annals of Time a perfect ride in the long-distance race.

“He’s a good horse. I don’t know if I’ve seen a horse that, no matter if the pace is slow or fast, he always finishes really well. I’m very proud of him. Some horses have to have pace in the race but this horse doesn’t need one,” said Castellano, who sat behind fractions of 23.36; 47.96; 1:14.82; and 1:40.52 before they finished up in 2:04.70.

“You can see the pace was very slow, but he still responded and passed all the horses. I took my time. It’s a mile-and-a-half and it’s the first time he’s gone a mile-and-a-half. You don’t want to rush it to be close to the pace. I rode with a lot of patience and it paid off today,” Castellano continued.

Jose Lezcano, the jockey aboard runner-up Sadler’s Joy, was philosophical in defeat, saying, “He broke good in a spot where I wanted to be. The last eighth, he gave me a good race. He ran hard. He gave me his race. We just came up short.”

With the victory, Brown tied Hall of Famer Bill Mott for the most training wins in race history with three as he also took the 2016 edition with Flintshire and the 2013 running with Big Blue Kitten. Castellano has also won the Sword Dancer three times, scoring with Flintshire and Telling in 2009.

Forego

SARATOGA SPRINGS — William and Corrine Heiligbrodt’s Mitole dueled up front with Grade 1-winner Promises Fulfilled and successfully shook away from his rival to net his third career Grade 1 win in the 40th running of the $600,000 Forego presented by Encore Boston Harbor at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.

The seven-furlong sprint for older horses on the main track pays homage to the three-time Horse of the Year (1974-76) and four-time Champion Older Horse (1974-77). Before building a champion-caliber resume, he finished fourth behind fellow Hall of Famer and Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. The sensational Forego was a 14-time Grade 1 winner.

Guided by jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who piloted last year’s Forego victor Whitmore, Mitole broke sharply from post 3 and went straight to the front in tandem with Promises Fulfilled to his inside and the two multiple Grade 1 winners laid down a moderate opening quarter-mile of 23.05 seconds on the main track rated fast.

Around the turn, the two continued to duel through a half-mile in 45.58 but Promises Fulfilled began to give way with Santana, Jr. asking for more from Mitole.

At the top of the stretch, Mitole extended his lead to three lengths with Killybegs Captain looming to his outside. In the final furlong, Mitole was the clear leader and sailed home under the wire, maintaining his three-length advantage in a stakes-record time of 1:20.80. Firenze Fire made a late bid to catch second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Killybegs Captain who rounded out the trifecta.

Air Strike, Bon Raison and Promises Fulfilled completed the order of finish.

The win was the second stakes victory of the meet for Santana, who previously guided Got Stormy to a track-record setting performance against males in the Grade 1 Fourstardave two weeks ago.

“Today he broke sharp and put himself in a position where he wanted to be,” Santana Jr. said. “He’s a really nice horse to ride, and he does everything right. We [went] slow in the first couple of quarters. My horse was comfortable in the position he was [in]. He put himself in a great spot.”

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Mitole made amends in the Forego following a disappointing third in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt earlier in the meet, where he was beaten 7 ½ lengths as the heavy favorite. The Forego was a third Grade 1 win for the 4-year-old Eskendereya chestnut, who earlier in the year captured the Churchill Downs and Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.

“I think the circumstances for the Vanderbilt just didn’t suit him; coming off the huge run in the Met Mile and cutting back to three-quarters,” Asmussen said. “But he came out of the race in good shape, trained beautifully for this, and the results speak for themselves.

“Just like going into the Churchill Downs and the Met Mile, Ricardo [Santana, Jr.] knows the horse, lets him be himself, and the best version of Mitole usually takes care of itself,” Asmussen added.

Asmussen said the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 is the long term goal for Mitole.

“I think that this was very significant coming off the loss in the Vanderbilt,” Asmussen said. “We’ll speak with the Heiligbrodts and see how he comes out of the race and see how he trains. Obviously, we’ll try to align ourselves for the Breeders’ Cup.”

Mitole racked up $320,000 from Saturday’s win, which enhanced his lifetime earnings to $2,004,910. Never off the board in 13 career starts, the ultra-consistent Mitole has a record of 9-2-2.

Mitole returned $3.80 as the 4-5 mutuel favorite.

Bred in Kentucky by Edward A. Cox, Jr., Mitole was a $140,000 acquisition from the Ocala Breeders Sales Company’s 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale in 2017. He is out of the Indian Charlie broodmare Indian Miss.

H. Allen Jerkens

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mind Control made a determined rally to win the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens presented by Runhappy in a four-way photo on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Backed as the 10-1 second choice in the field of nine, Mind Control settled in the clear in third as 3-10 favorite Shancelot set moderate fractions of 23.15 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.58 for the half in the seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds.

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez put Mind Control to a drive inside the quarter pole, and the Stay Thirsty colt moved in unison with Hog Creek Hustle and Rowayton to reel in Shancelot and got his nose down on the wire to defeat Hog Creek Hustle by a nose. It was an additional nose back to Shancelot, who held off Rowayton by a neck for third.

Mind Control returned $22.80 for a $2 win wager and completed seven furlongs in 1:21.43 on the fast main track. Gregory Sacco trains Mind Control for Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stable. 

“I really didn’t know if I had it,” said Velazquez. “I got beat twice on the wire here, and I didn’t want to jinx myself. [Greg] asked me, and I said, ‘I don’t think I got it. [But] let’s see what happens.'”

Mind Control was racing at Saratoga for the first time since winning the Grade 1 Hopeful last September in his third start. He opened his 3-year-old campaign with three starts at Aqueduct Racetrack, winning the Jerome in January, finishing third in the Grade 3 Gotham in March, and capturing the Grade 3 Bay Shore in April. In his two most recent outings, he was eighth in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens in June at Belmont Park and third as the 2-5 favorite in the Concern Stakes on July 14 at Laurel Park.

“His last two trips were so brutal,” said Sacco. “The Woody Stephens was a nightmare. My brother picked out a great spot for him in Maryland and it wasn’t really a step down. He wanted the six weeks and he thought the [Grade 2] Amsterdam [on July 28 at Saratoga] would be a tough heat and it turned out to be an unbelievable heat, and he didn’t want a month back. This was the race we were pointing for since the Woody, all summer. We wanted him in peak performance. He’s a gutsy horse. I can’t say enough about him and about my staff and the way they prepared him.”

Overall, Mind Control is 5-2-1 in 10 starts. He has earned $805,000 to date, including $275,000 for his Jerkens victory.

Nitrous finished fifth and was followed by Call Paul, Borracho, The Big S, and Twelfth Labour.

Ballston Spa

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Significant Form prevailed in a five-horse charge to the wire on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course to win the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa by a hard-fought neck and earn her second graded stakes of the year.

Under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who notched his second straight stakes win on Travers Day, Significant Form enjoyed a close-up ground-saving trip as longshot Conquest Hardcandy towed the field of nine turf fillies and mares through tepid fractions of 24.22 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, with the half-mile going in 48.47.

Coming out of the turn, with Conquest Hardcandy clinging to the lead, Velazquez gave the 4-year-old gray filly her cue and she responded with a determined late run that carried her between horses and to the wire in 1:41.39 for 1 1/16 miles over the firm Mellon turf course.

“She’s very good,” said Velazquez, aboard for the first time. “It was special to be on her. They told me she was a nice horse, and they were right about it. The way she ran down the lane, she responded right away and showed great fight.”

Indian Blessing was second. It was another neck back to Starship Jubilee, who nosed out Peter Brant’s Fifty Five for third, with pacesetting Conquest Hardcandy yet another neck back in fifth. Following them under the wire were Hogans Holiday, Scottish Jig, Secret Message, and beaten favorite Mascha.

Owned by Stephanie Seymour Brant, Significant Form added the Ballston Spa to her victory in the Grade 3 Intercontinental in June at Belmont Park, after which she finished fifth in the Caress on July 21. Overall, she is 4-1-0 from 11 starts, including stakes wins in the 2018 Memories of SIlver and 2017’s Grade 3 Miss Grillo.

“We gave her some time off during the winter just to put some weight on,” said winning trainer Chad Brown. “No physical problems, really. After her seven-eighths race at Belmont [Intercontinental], I screwed up running her too short, five and a half furlongs [July 21]. It was poor judgment, but Peter and Stephanie [Brant] really wanted to take a look at this race with both of their horses [in] Fifty Five [fourth] and Significant Form.”

The winner’s purse of $220,000 lifted Significant Form’s earnings to $694,865, and she returned $16.60 for a $2 win bet.

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