Heavily favored Midnight Bisou looked well on her way to notching her sixth career Grade 1 win turning for home in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, but someone forgot to tell Vexatious that this was supposed to be a walk over.
Sent off at odds of 9-1 as the third choice in the five horse field, Vexatious took Midnight Bisou's best shot in the stretch, but rebuffed the champion mare to win her first Grade 1 race for Calumet Farm. It was also the first career Grade 1 win for trainer Jack Sisterson.
"It's a great win whether at Belterra or Saratoga. It's our first win at Saratoga, so it's cool that it's a Grade 1 with the history behind this race," said Sisterson.
#4 Vexatious (9/1) beats champion #3 Midnight Bisou (1/5), in the Personal Ensign (G1). pic.twitter.com/G6uf3Q7scJ— TwinSpires (@TwinSpires) August 1, 2020
Winless since 2018, Vexatious has never shied away from facing the best fillies and mares in the division. She finished second to Monomoy Girl in the Grade 2 Ruffian in her last start and was defeated twice last year by Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Blue Prize.
"We were worried coming back in three weeks [after running second in the G2 Ruffian on July 11]. 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," added Sisterson.
Vexatious, a 6-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway, received a perfect ride from jockey Jose Lezcano. Vexatious sat just off early leader Motion Emotion, who went 48.36 for the opening half mile. Vexatious took the lead turning for home, but Midnight Bisou and Ricardo Santana Jr. -- who was riding in place of Hall of Famer Mike Smith -- were hot on her heels.
Vexatious drifted out in the stretch leading to a stewards' inquiry and jockeys' objection, but it wsstewards determined that Midnight Bisou still had every chance to go by, but was denied by the better filly on this day.
Sisterson knew he had no control over the inquiry and was proud of his mare either way.
"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."
Point of Honor, the second choice in the wagering, finished a distant third. Vexatious completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.82 over a fast main track to gain a berth into the Breeders' Cup Distaff in this "Win and You're In" race.
"I had a perfect trip," Lezcano said of his ride aboard Vexatious. "My filly broke well. She was relaxed the whole way and just sitting behind the leader [No. 2, Motion Emotion].
"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," Lezcano continued. "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."
Vexatious, whose only previous stakes win came in the 2018 Dowager Stakes (G3) at Keeneland, while competing as a turf filly for trainer Neil Drysdale. She improved her record to 23: 4-3-7 with earnings of $723,985.
Midnight Bisou co-owner Jeff Bloom, was satisfied with the performance of last year's older female dirt champion, but felt the incident in the stretch may have been the difference.
"When the other filly [Vexatious] came out and he [Lezcano] was still hitting her left-handed, it looked like it stopped our filly's momentum enough at that point," Bloom said. "Then they came out one more time and it wasn't massive but, to me, it looked like it was a momentum shift in a crucial point of the race.
"She ran a huge race. She barely lost the race. She's just a remarkable race mare," Bloom continued. "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.