Sunday, Aug. 30, Saratoga
The Low-Down: The Ladies' Classic division has been a two-gal discussion this year between 3-year-old Rachel Alexandra and defending champion Zenyatta, queen of the West. But with Rachel expected to bypass the Breeders' Cup and Zenyatta potentially accepting a date with the boys in the Classic, the next wave of divisional threats should start to appear. It's very interesting that Godolphin sent Cocoa Beach and Music Note to turf and sprint stakes, respectively, on the Saturday card at Saratoga, skipping this 1 1/4-miles test altogether.
Our Eyes: Naturally, the Delaware Handicap is a great measuring stick for the Personal Ensign, given the 10-furlong distance and regional placement of both races. The top four Del Cap finishers all return, led by front-running Swift Temper, who rocked the field to sleep last month. While there's not an imposing influx of additional early speed in the Personal Ensign, this field does include Weathered, a long shot filly with some sprint speed. At the very least, she should help make things a bit more honest than the :49-4/5, 1:14-3/5 carousel fractions we saw at Delaware Park.
Unbridled Belle was the beaten favorite in last year's Personal Ensign, and also burned the public's dinero in the Del Cap at 6-5 odds. She'll be reunited with jockey John Velazquez as the powerful Todd Pletcher barn tries to divide and conquer with three entrants. Grade 1-placed stablemate Sea Chanter and recent pick-up With Flying Colors complete the Pletcher posse.
Speaking of beaten favorites, Miss Isella mustered second money when hammered to 6-5 favoritism in the G1 Go For Wand earlier this meeting. The daughter of Derby winner Silver Charm totes high weight of 120 pounds, giving 2-4 pounds to her rivals. Her 3: 2-1-0 mark at 1 1/8 miles and solid-finishing style suggest she'll handle her first test at 1 1/4 miles just fine.
The real wildcard has to be Icon Project, a fantastically-bred daughter of Belmont champ Empire Maker who was a pace victim when second in the Delaware Handicap. Trainer Marty Wolfson makes a jockey change to Julien Leparoux with this one-time rising turf star. When the G3 New York Handicap was washed off the grass June 20, Icon Project freaked in the slop and ran away to a 13-1/4 length win in her main track unveiling. The Personal Ensign field is light years better than the one she faced at Belmont, but she showed at Delaware Park on a fast track that she can run with just about anyone right now -- and at any distance. If it comes up sloppy, game over for the rest.
The Bottom Line: Swift Temper could not handle Miss Isella in three previous matchups, but bested the Delaware Handicap crew. That tells me Miss Isella, coming out of the Go For Wand, should be the one to beat. But I love that route pedigree for Icon Project and will be boxing her with Miss Isella in the exactas, looking at this as a two-filly race.
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