Zipse: Midnight Bisou, Elate set for Personal Ensign showdown

August 19, 2019 07:56am

Personal Ensign is remembered as one of the greatest race mares of all time. Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey, the daughter of Private Account retired undefeated in 13 career starts, but only after an unforgettable victory in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Looking for all the world to be beaten on a sloppy Churchill Downs main track, she dug down deep for one final thrust to nail the front-running Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors by a nose on the wire.

For her many achievements on the racetrack, Personal Ensign will never be forgotten. Her legend also lives on with the annual running of the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, and this year's edition promises to be one of the highlights of the summer.

Fitting of the champion for which it is named, Saturday's nine-furlong feature on the Travers Stakes (G1) undercard will bring together the top two dirt mares in the nation when
Midnight Bisou and Elate clash for a third time this year.

A clear leader of the division, Midn
ight Bisou has actually gotten the better of her rival twice this year in the Azeri Stakes (G2) and Apple Blossom Handicap (G2) back in March and April and both at Oaklawn Park. Those two victories are part of a five-race winning streak for the Steve Asmussen-trained 4-year-old.

The daughter of Midnight Lute counts 
two Grade 1 triumphs among her five graded stakes victories this year. Since her two wins over Elate in Arkansas, Midnight Bisou also scored a rousing romp in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park in June.


She followed that up by prepping for the Personal Ensign with a facile victory in the Molly Pitcher (G3) las time at Monmouth Park.

With her perfect record in 2019, Midnight Bisou not only sits on top of the older female dirt division, but she has also put herself in the Horse of the Year discussion. Having said all that, Saturday's test looks to be her toughest of the year.

Yes, she beat her rival twice this year, but those came in the first two starts for Elate after missing last year's Breeders' Cup with a splint injury. Like Midnight Bisou, she has been perfect since Oaklawn Park,
 rounding into her best form.

A 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, Elate powered by her rivals late to score in the Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs in June before overwhelming her competition in the 10-furlong Delaware Handicap (G2) on July 13.

That victory last time was her second straight Delaware Handicap win, and points out that the Bill Mott-trainee is back to her very best in time for a third meeting with Midnight Bisou. 

In further support of Elate turning the tables this time around on Midnight Bisou, keep in mind that the
winner of the first two meetings is a sensational 9-for-9 while running 1 1/16 miles, but is winless in four tries while going 1 1/8 miles or farther. Elate, meanwhile, is known to like more distance.

Midnight Bisou is also winless in two previous tries at Saratoga, while Elate has run very well in each of three races at the Spa, including an Alabama (G1) win, and a stirring stretch battle with the champion Abel Tasman in last year's edition of the Personal Ensign.

Despite the distance and track questions, there's a reason why Midnight Bisou is 5-for-5 in graded stakes this season. Even with the intangibles seemingly on the side of Elate for this one, it will take a top effort to hand Midnight Bisou her first loss of the season.

Of course, these two female titans of the dirt will not be the only contestants of the Personal Ensign. Wow Cat, She's a Julie, Golden Award and Coach Rocks are all graded stakes winners in their own right.

Without taking those four nice mares lightly, if they all run their race on Saturday, this should come down to Midnight Bisou and Elate -- and it looks too close to call from here.

 

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