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Idiomatic Steals Personal Ensign on the Front End

The 76th running of the $500,000 Personal Ensign (G1) was billed as a battle of the female titans as the leaders of the older filly division stepped onto the sloppy main track at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 25.

Nest , Clairiere , and Secret Oath  were supposed to slug it out in the 1 1/8-mile race.

Juddmonte’s Idiomatic  had other ideas. The 4-year-old daughter of Curlin   assumed the lead from the start and splashed home to a four-length upset in front of a paid attendance of 25,355.

There was a battle between Briland Farm’s Secret Oath and Nest owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Michael House. It was for second, and 7-1 Secret Oath won that by a neck.

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Nest was 12 lengths in front of 45-1 Malloy , owned by Coffeepot Stables, and it was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Stonestreet Stables’ Clairiere, who was the disappointment in the race as that classy mare never fired. MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm’s Sixtythreecaliber  finished last in the six-horse field.

While many in the crowd were expecting an entertaining run from those that did not win, the superior effort turned in by Idiomatic had her connections beaming.

In the days leading up to the race, trainer Brad Cox had said his filly would have to step up as she had never faced the heavyweights of the division before. She had won her last race, the Delaware Handicap (G2) in a similar front-running style, but she had stumbled badly coming out of the gate.

Cox knew the start in the Personal Ensign was crucial. If she tripped out of the gate, at the Spa, Cox did not know if she could recover against the likes of this field.

He didn’t have to worry. Idiomatic and jockey Florent Geroux broke like champs and the game was on. 

“I felt a lot better at the start today than I did at the Delaware race,” Cox said. “This was huge. They are champions. They have accomplished so much and are still in good form.”

Nest won the Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old filly last year and had opened her 2023 campaign earlier in the meet with a 2 1/4-length victory over Clairiere in the Shuvee Stakes (G2). The 5-year-old mare Clairiere came in as a multiple grade 1 winner and the hard-knocking Secret Oath won the 2022 Kentucky Oaks (G1).

Idiomatic, the 4-1 third choice in the wagering, proved she belonged as she dictated the race, cutting fractions of :24.53 for the first quarter and kept Malloy and jockey Dylan Davis at bay as she hit the half in :48.84 and six furlongs in 1:12.61.

At the top of the stretch, it looked as though Nest and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. were going to make a race of it as they began to advance and Secret Oath and Javier Castellano were moving from fourth while saving ground on the rail.

Idiomatic, center leads the field at the top of the stretch on the way to a gate to wire win in the 76th running of The Personal Ensign at the Saratoga Race Course Friday Aug. 25, 2023 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo  by Skip Dickstein
Photo: Skip Dickstein

Idiomatic (center, pink cap) leads the field at the top of the stretch in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course

But Idiomatic was just getting started. Geroux got to work and the bay filly responded, spurting away to win the race easily.

Idiomatic with Florent Geroux wins the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 25, 2023.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Idiomatic with Florent Geroux wins the Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course

“It was not going to be much pace, so I took advantage of it,” Geroux said. “Set some reasonable fractions and when she started picking up at the half-mile pole, I thought she was going to be extremely hard to catch.”

Idiomatic was appearing in her first grade 1 race but she had showed she had ability with wins in six of her nine career starts. Five of her first six stats came on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park. Cox never doubted she would relish the dirt and he was right.  

She won her last two starts on dirt; this was her first try on an off track.

With the win, Idiomatic vaults herself into the picture for champion older dirt female.

“She can compete with the best in the division,” Cox said. “This division is not decided; it’s wide open. I’m proud of her.”

Nest, the 3-5 favorite, lost for the first time in her career at Saratoga after three wins. No one in her camp was looking to make excuses. On this day, the 4-year-old daughter of Curlin just got beat by a better rival.

“It’s always great watching her win,” co-owner Mike Repole said as he stood outside the winner’s circle. “Nothing is never automatic. She is special. She ran hard.”

Todd Pletcher, Nest’s Hall of Fame trainer, knew Idiomatic had some talent. He ran second to her in the Delaware Handicap with Classy Edition , losing by a head.

“I was hoping someone would try and mix it up with her a little bit,” Pletcher said. “We got the trip we were expecting to get. The winner is a quality mare and was setting some pretty easy fractions. (Ortiz) thought she was handling (the track) fine until it came time to punch. He said she kept grinding away but didn’t have that turn of foot like she does on a fast track.”

Idiomatic’s final time was 1:49.12. She paid $10 to win.

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