by Ryan Martin
Calumet Farm's Vexatious turned back a challenge from five-time Grade 1-winning champion Midnight Bisou in taking Saturday's 71st running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga Race Course.
Midnight Bisou, the reigning Champion Older Female, nosed out multiple Grade 1 winner Elate in last year's edition of the 1 1/8-mile event for older fillies and mares at the Spa, but did not come out on the winning end this time around.
Breaking from post 4 in the five-horse field under jockey Jose Lezcano, Vexatious tracked pacesetter Motion Emotion heading into the first turn through an opening quarter-mile in 24.15 seconds and a half in 48.36 seconds over a fast main track.
Around the far turn, jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., aboard Midnight Bisou, began asking the Eclipse Award-winning mare as she inched her way closer to contention and was on even strides at the quarter pole with Vexatious to her inside, who took command from a fading Motion Emotion approaching the top of the stretch.
Lezcano and Santana, Jr. began calling on their charges for more as they remained on level terms. Approaching the three-sixteenths, Vexatious and Midnight Bisou came together in a fight to the finish. Vexatious came out a neck to the better of the 13-time graded stakes winning champion in a final time of 1:48.82. Point of Honor finished another 6 ¼ lengths back in third.
Motion Emotion and Abounding Joy completed the order of finish. Bossy Bride was scratched.
The Personal Ensign drama did not end following the race as there was both a steward's inquiry and a jockey's objection from Santana, Jr. for interference in the stretch. After further review of the stretch run, the stewards ruled no change in the order of finish.
"I had a perfect trip. My filly broke well. She was relaxed the whole way and just sitting behind the leader," said Lezcano. "I could feel the other filly [Midnight Bisou] coming and I started asking my filly. Every time the other filly came close to her, my filly dug in. I showed her to the other filly and she kept going. She kept running. We could have gone around one more time and I still would have been in front with my filly."
The win was a first Grade 1 triumph for both Vexatious and trainer Jack Sisterson, who also picked up his first career win at Saratoga in the Personal Ensign.
The fun continued for Sisterson, who secured the double in the following race when Everfast defeated allowance company over the main track.
Vexatious arrived at the Personal Ensign off a runner-up finish to champion Monomoy Girl in the Grade 2 Ruffian going a one-turn mile at Belmont Park.
"We were worried coming back in three weeks," Sisterson said. "We put this race in her hands and let her tell us she was ready to come back, and three weeks later she told us that she was ready to run. Physically, she looked great and worked well last week. She's answered every question."
Sisterson admitted to feeling a little anxious when the inquiry sign came up, but said that regardless of the outcome, he still would have been proud of his horse.
"It's always a worrisome time when the inquiry sign comes up, but if it wasn't mean to be, we would still be proud of our horse's game effort. She ran terrific," Sisterson said.
Vexatious rewarded her backers with $2 win payouts of $21 while bringing up her lifetime earnings to $723,985. Bred in Kentucky by James C. Weigel & Giant's Causeway Syndicate, the 6-year-old bay daughter of Giant's Causeway is out of Grade 1-winner Dream of Summer making her a full sister to Grade 1-winner and producer Creative Cause and multiple graded stakes winner Destin. In taking the Personal Ensign, Vexatious enhanced her already high breeding value when securing Grade 1 black type on dirt. Vexatious also won last year's Grade 3 Dowager over the turf at Keeneland.
"We always thought she had a big win in her and all credit to the filly," Sisterson said. "I want to say thank you to [owner] Calumet Farm, and my employees for getting her in the best shape possible. We started off the year in allowance races and allowed her to improve, and she deserves it. It's a whole team effort and I have a lot of people to thank."
In taking the Personal Ensign, Vexatious earned an automatic entry to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff on November 7 at Keeneland, where Sisterson is primarily based.
"We'll give her a well-deserved few days off and let her jump ahead a bit. Obviously, it's a "Win and You're In." We'll run her again before the Breeders' Cup and look forward to being home at Keeneland," Sisterson said. "I think this means a lot to the farm. She's had a successful racing career and she'll go on to have a good broodmare career now. She trains very hard and puts 110% in her training very day. Mark O'Dwyer [assistant trainer] has done a great job with her. The staff at Keeneland has done a great job. People don't see what goes on behind the scenes."
Midnight Bisou co-owner Jeff Bloom was gracious in defeat and still sung praises on behalf of his champion mare.
"She ran a huge race. She barely lost the race. She's just a remarkable race mare," Bloom said. "I think what happened in the race definitely caused a shift in momentum. Is it disappointing to lose? Of course it is. You want to win all of them. They don't give Grade 1 races away. You've got to go out there and do it. The filly that beat us is a really nice filly. She ran a huge race last out and is on the upswing, and that's what happens."
Live racing returns on Sunday with a 10-race card which features the $100,000 Birdstone for 4-year-olds and upward going 1 ¾ miles over the main track. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.