The New York Racing Association,
Inc. (NYRA) has uploaded the replays from all 11 races that the brilliant
Personal Ensign won on the NYRA circuit, from her dominant 2-year-old debut to
her stirring Maskette victory over Winning Colors. The races are available on
NYRA’s official YouTube site, located at http://www.youtube.com/user/NYRAvideo#grid/user/8ADBB2A90288191C.
Personal Ensign, who finished her career a perfect 13 for 13, died
Thursday of natural causes at the age of 26 in her pasture at Claiborne Farm in
Paris, Ky. Bred and owned by Ogden Phipps, the unparalleled daughter of Private
Account won 10 races at Belmont Park in addition to one at Saratoga Race
Course, that being the 1988 Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, her lone victory against males.
She began her career on September 28, 1986, breaking her maiden by
nearly 13 lengths going seven furlongs at Belmont
as the heavy favorite. Trainer Claude McGaughey III remembers that first start
“Looking back, even her maiden race was impressive,”
McGaughey said. “She had trained well going into it, but you always like
to see them put it out there on the racetrack, and she did. They ran the Matron
the same day, and she ran faster than the winner, which is why I nominated her
to a Grade 1, the Frizette, in her next start. She had to run a little bit in
the Frizette, which is the day I think she learned what it was all about.”
For Randy Romero, who rode Personal Ensign in 12 of her 13 starts, it
didn’t take long to figure out just how good she was.
“I hadn’t been getting on her in the mornings, but her
exercise rider had told me she could really run,” Romero said. “She
was very frisky before that first start, and was slow breaking from the gate,
but when I asked her she swooped to the lead and never looked back. It took one
race for me to know she was the best I had ever ridden.”
In the Frizette, two weeks later, Personal Ensign demonstrated her
tenacity, winning by a head over Collins. Shortly after that victory, she was
found to have broken her right hind ankle, requiring intensive surgery that
kept her off the track for nearly a year.
Returning 11 months later in September, 1987, Personal Ensign won two
allowances at Belmont, then went on to capture the Grade 2 Rare Perfume, also
She made her final start in 1987 just eight days after the Rare Perfume,
entering the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont as the 6-5 second choice in a field of 10.
Not only was it the biggest field that she would ever face, but it was to be
the only time in her career that she would not be sent off the favorite. The
role of favoritism that day fell to Coup de Fusil, a 5-year-old mare coming off
three straight Grade 1 victories – the Delaware Handicap, John A. Morris
Handicap, and Ruffian Handicap. It turned out to be a one-horse affair, as
Personal Ensign vanquished her older opponent by a decisive 2 ¼ lengths.
She returned in 1988 as a 4-year-old to put together one of the most
impressive campaigns in the history of racing. Her first three starts that year
resulted in relatively easy victories in the Grade 1 Shuvee Handicap at
Belmont, the Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap at Belmont,
and the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth
In her 10th career start, Personal Ensign took on the boys in the Grade
1 Whitney at Saratoga.
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the field of three, including seven-time Grade
1 winner Gulch, the big mare took control in the stretch and came home 1 ½
lengths in front.
“I’ll never forget the Whitney,” Romero said.
“It was a muddy day and Gulch and King’s Swan were battling it out
on the front. I was able to get Personal Ensign to settle in third, and at the
5/16th pole I urged my mare and she just swallowed them. She was
much the best that day.”
The next time Personal Ensign took the track would be the first of two
matchups between her and the celebrated Winning Colors, who earlier that year had
become only the third filly in the history of racing to win the Kentucky Derby.
They met in the Grade 1 Maskette on September 10, contested over a mile at Belmont. Personal Ensign
was sent off as the heavy 1-5 favorite, but the 3-year-old upstart gave her all
she could handle through the stretch. In the end, the undefeated mare finished
¾ lengths ahead of Winning Colors, but it set the stage for their meeting a
Between the Maskette and her final race, Personal Ensign captured her 12th
victory, cruising to her second win in the Grade 1 Beldame, this time by an impressive
5 ½ lengths.
It was a victory that McGaughey was able to really savor.
“I was very anxious for most of her races, because there were a
lot of variables for each – facing colts, running in a Grade 1 coming off
a seven-month layoff – but the one race I really enjoyed watching was the
1988 Beldame,” McGaughey said. “I remember telling myself as we
walked out of the paddock, ‘She’s the best. Just sit down and enjoy
it.’ I had confidence going in that she would run well, and if she broke
well, I knew she would run well.”
The final race of Personal Ensign’s career would come in the 1988
Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs, where she would again
face Winning Colors, the only foe that had finished within a length of her in
more than two years. As the race developed, Personal Ensign was much further
off the pace than usual. In her previous 12 races, she had never been more than
two lengths off the leader at the second call; in the Distaff, at the second
call she ran fifth, eight lengths behind Winning Colors. As they entered the
stretch, it looked like Personal Ensign might have left herself too much to do,
but showing the heart and drive that made her one of the best thoroughbreds to
ever grace the track, she launched a desperate rally to get up and defeat her
younger rival by a nose.
Personal Ensign was named Eclipse Champion Older Female Horse in 1988,
inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1993, and
was named Broodmare of the Year in 1996.
Among her offspring are Grade 1 winner Miner’s Mark, Grade 1
winner Traditionally, Grade 1-placed Our Emblem (who went on to sire Kentucky
Derby winner War Emblem), and her most accomplished runner, Breeders’ Cup
and four-time Grade 1 winner My Flag, who herself went on to produce Breeders
Cup and four-time Grade 1 winner Storm Flag Flying.