In what could be considered a teaser trailer for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park, a half-dozen of the best fillies and mares in North America will face off in Saturday’s $700,000, Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti over 1 1/8 miles at historic Saratoga Race Course.
#1 Midnight Bisou, undefeated in five starts this season, is the narrow 6-5 favorite over 7-5 shot #4 Elate, impressive winner of the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap last month. But they’re not the only high-class runners in the Personal Ensign – they’ll be joined in this “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Distaff by Grade 1 winners #3 She’s a Julie and #5 Wow Cat plus the graded stakes winners #2 Coach Rocks and #6 Golden Award.
Still, in terms of overall accomplishments and speed figures, Midnight Bisou and Elate stand a cut above their four rivals. Most bettors will recognize their superiority and play the race accordingly, but the problem is, betting both to win (or on top of exotics like the exacta or trifecta) isn’t exactly a lucrative proposition. If you box them in the exacta, you might be lucky to break even.
The smarter approach for bettors seeking a meaningful payoff is to play only one on top. But with greater reward comes greater risk – you have to somehow split these two fast females and determine which is more likely to prevail, a task easier said than done.
At first glance, it might seem as though Midnight Bisou is the better choice. She’s been on fire this season and defeated Elate twice at Oaklawn Park during the spring. She’ll have Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the saddle, and she should save ground while breaking from the rail. What’s not to like?
Well, if we’re being picky, I might point out that Midnight Bisou benefited from a perfect ground-saving trip when defeating Elate by a length in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn. And she also had to work a little harder than expected to win the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park last month as the 1-20 favorite. Could Midnight Bisou’s busy season be catching up to her a little?
In contrast, Elate seemed rusty at Oaklawn while returning from a layoff, and she’s really upped her game this summer. After rallying from behind a slow pace to win the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs, Elate smashed eight rivals by 4 ½ lengths in the aforementioned Delaware Handicap, winning easily after seizing command with a huge move on the far turn.
The distance and racing surface should also play to Elate’s strengths. Whereas Midnight Bisou is 0-for-4 racing 1 1/8 miles or farther, Elate thrives over longer distances and has shown a particular affinity for Saratoga, where she dominated the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes in 2017. In fact, Elate was beaten just a neck by champion Abel Tasman in the 2018 Personal Ensign Stakes, posting big speed figures even in defeat.
Midnight Bisou may have been superior to Elate during the spring, but racing form tends to be cyclical, and with Elate on the rise and Midnight Bisou looking a little dull last time out, I suspect the Personal Ensign will be Elate’s turn to shine.
Underneath the two obvious favorites, Wow Cat seems like a logical choice to round out the trifecta. Conditioned by Saratoga’s leading trainer Chad Brown, Wow Cat finished third in the 2018 Personal Ensign before winning the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to Monomoy Girl, a productive campaign against high-class competition.
Granted, Wow Cat didn’t bring her A-game when finishing second in the Grade 3 Shuvee Stakes at Saratoga last month. But the Shuvee marked Wow Cat’s first run of the season, and her late rally was compromised by a very slow early pace. There’s more speed entered in the Personal Ensign field, and with the benefit of a prep run under her belt, I expect Wow Cat to take a big step forward on Saturday. If Midnight Bisou regresses, Wow Cat might even have an opportunity to steal second place.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$13 trifecta: 4 with 1 with 5
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $13 trifecta 4 with 1 with 5
$7 trifecta: 4 with 5 with 1
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $7 trifecta 4 with 5 with 1
Good luck, and enjoy the race!