Vexatious Upsets Midnight Bisou In Personal Ensign

Giving trainer Jack Sisterson his first Grade 1 victory, Calumet Farm’s Vexatious held off champion Midnight Bisou the length of the stretch under Jose Lezcano to win Saturday’s Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

A 6-year-old mare by Giant’s Causeway, Vexatious covered 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.82, winning by a neck over the odds-on favorite, who was seeking her 14th career win in 22 starts. Point of Honor finished third, with pacesetter Motion Emotion fourth and Abounding Joy rounding out the field of five fillies and mares.

Stewards lit the inquiry sign and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. – riding Midnight Bisou for the first time because COVID-19 restrictions prevented the Midnight Lute mare’s regular jockey, Mike Smith, from coming to Saratoga – claimed foul for stretch interference. After a brief review, the original order of finish was allowed to stand.

Vexatious, winning her second graded stakes and fourth race overall in a 23-race career that began with trainer Neil Drysdale in California in October 2016, paid $21 for the win.

The Personal Ensign is a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In Challenge Series race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, giving Vexatious a fees-paid berth in the race.

Motion Emotion jumped out to an early lead, setting fractions of :24.15 and :48.36 for the first half-mile under Irad Ortiz, Jr. Lezcano tracked the front-runner in second, with Midnight Bisou just behind Vexatious in the run down the backstretch.

Vexatious engaged Motion Emotion going into the far turn after six furlongs were clocked in 1:12.20, and put that filly away before reaching the quarter pole. Santana guided Midnight Bisou to the outside of Vexatious turning into the stretch, and those two raced as a team to the wire.

Approaching the eighth pole, Lexcano allowed Vexatious to drift out slightly, drawing her closer to Midnight Bisou, who appeared to have the momentum going into the final furlong after a mile in 1:36.29. The two horses brushed slightly, with Vexatious holding off Midnight Bisou in the final yards.

“I had a perfect trip,” said Lezcano. “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. 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.”

Bred in Kentucky by James C. Weigel and the Giant’s Causeway Syndicate, Vexatious was graded stakes placed twice leading up to the G1 Kentucky Oaks in 2017, in which she finished fourth.

Vexatious scored her first black type win in the CTT and TOC Stakes at Del Mar in 2018 and later that year was placed first in the G3 Dowager on turf at Keeneland after the first first-place finisher was disqualified fore interference. She came into the Personal Ensign off nine consecutive losses.

“We always thought she had a big win in her and all credit to the filly,” said Sisterson, who has had Vexatious in his barn since June 2019. “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.

“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.

“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.

“We’ll give her a well-deserved few days off and let her jump ahead a bit,” said Sisterson. “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.

“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, trained by Steve Asmussen, won seven of eight races in 2019, her only defeat coming when second to Blue Prize in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She began her 2020 campaign facing males while running second to Maximum Security in the inaugural Saudi Cup in Saudi Arabia, then won the G2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 27.

“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,” said Jeff Bloom, co-owner of Midnight Bisou. “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,” Bloom added. “She barely lost the race. She’s just a remarkable race mare. 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.

“[Jockey] Ricardo [Santana Jr.] rode her well and he had her in a great spot. He talked to [Hall of Fame jockey] Mike [Smith] a couple of times about how she wants to be ridden and it just didn’t work out.

“The more I watched [the replay] the more I thought we had a chance because, again, when fillies are battling at that point in the race, if you watch the head-on there’s no question that horse came over and bumped her. And, she got bumped at a point where a horse is just really starting to dig in and collect themselves. I was hopeful they would [make a change], but they didn’t.”

 

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