The premature retirement of Unique Bella due to injury has created an opportunity for someone to usurp her over the final four months of the year and claim a championship in the older female division.
The most likely candidates to do that are Abel Tasman, the 3-year-old filly champion of 2017, and Elate, a two-time Grade 1 winner as a 3-year-old and Eclipse finalist.
On Saturday Abel Tasman and Elate renew acquaintances at Saratoga as they headline a field of six in the Grade 1 $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race that offers a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to be run Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
Abel Tasman defeated Elate by a head here in last year’s Coaching Club American Oaks, a result that was not without controversy as Mike Smith, Abel Tasman’s rider, tightened things up on Jose Ortiz and Elate in deep stretch.
Elate came back to win the Grade 1 Alabama here by 5 1/2 lengths, while Abel Tasman went on to win the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx Racing. In the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Abel Tasman was second, Elate was fourth.
Thus far, in 2018, Elate has run only once, Abel Tasman has run twice.
Elate’s 4-year-old campaign was delayed by a splint bone injury during the winter. She had the difficult task of returning from an eight-month layoff in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap at 1 1/4 miles. No problem; Elate galloped to a 3 1/4-length victory.
Though trainer Bill Mott said Elate’s best distance is a mile and a quarter, “she sure doesn’t have any trouble getting a mile and an eighth,” he said.
Since the Delaware Handicap, Elate has been training incredibly well, including one breeze in which she was much stronger than her 3-year-old male workmate Hofburg.
Elate will break from post 6.
Abel Tasman began her campaign with a dud in the Grade 1 La Troienne, finishing fourth as the 3-5 favorite at Churchill Downs in May. She rebounded with a monster performance in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard, winning by 7 1/2 lengths.
Bob Baffert, Abel Tasman’s trainer, said he gave some thought to running in the Delaware Handicap, but said he wanted a fresh filly for the fall, with the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as the ultimate target.
“We’re trying to keep her fresh and run her in the big races,” Baffert said. “We’d like to get another championship.”
Abel Tasman will break from the rail under Smith.
Farrell recorded a front-running neck victory over Wow Cat in the Grade 3 Shuvee here July 29. She may not have as easy a time on the front end Saturday as owner Ron Paolucci has entered both She Takes Heart and Fuhriously Kissed in the Personal Ensign. She Takes Heart looks like she has enough speed to keep Farrell honest while potentially setting it up for the late-running Fuhriously Kissed.
Wow Cat is an intriguing player in this field. A perfect 8 for 8 in Chile, she was making her first start in eight months when she came up a neck short in the Shuvee.
“She got the race she needed, she came out of the race in impressive form. She’s been training sharp and strong and looks fitter,” trainer Chad Brown said. “She’s going to improve off that race. Whether it’s good enough to beat [Abel Tasman and Elate] remains to be seen, but I really like this horse.”
Elate, by Medaglia d’Oro
Last 3 Beyers: 92-93-97
◗ Came off an eight-month layoff to win the Delaware Handicap, making an early move to compensate for a soft early pace.
◗ Her Aug. 12 breeze was done in company with Hofburg. Elate was waiting on her company and then galloped out well in front, eventually getting six furlongs in 1:13.99.
Abel Tasman, by Quality Road
Last 3 Beyers: 100-89-99
◗ Beat solid field in the Grade 1 Phipps, making an early move to the lead and continuing her run in the one-turn, 1 1/8-mile race.
◗ After that race, Baffert commented how Abel Tasman prefers the East Coast tracks. She has Grade 1 wins at Belmont, Saratoga, and Churchill.
Wow Cat, by Lookin At Lucky
◗ Was bumped at the break and carried out at the wire of the Shuvee when beaten a neck by Farrell.
◗ A move forward off that race puts her in the mix.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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