By Keith Pettyjohn — We’ve all heard it before, and we’ve heard it more than once: “Saratoga: The Graveyard of Favorites.”And wasn’t that ever the case this past Saturday in upstate New York.
One of the things that I like to do when big favorites go down to defeat is to take a good hard look deep inside the numbers. So let’s start this exploration with Midnight Bisou, who lost the Personal Ensign as the 1-5 chalk.
And for this challenge trainer Steve Asmussen had her fit and ready to fire in her second race off the layoff, giving her three nice, evenly spaced workouts under her belt. She was poised for a top effort.
There’s nothing truly negative that we can say about her performance. If one had to reach and stretch for something, maybe you could lay some blame on the COVID-19 protocols that kept regular rider Mike Smith in California.
So Ricardo Santana Jr. gets the mount having no experience with this mare in a race. Just as it is with workouts, afternoon’s are different, even when you have plenty of familiarity with the animal in the morning. Not only did he do nothing wrong, he had her in perfect position throughout.
OK, so let’s lay some of the blame on Jose Lezcano for “herding” and “floating an opponent” in the stretch to not let her pass by forcing her rival to look her in the eye and win a battle of wills.
Now let’s turn our attention to the winner, Vexatious. She returned to racing at Oaklawn Park after a six month layoff to post a Class-Based Performance figure of 79. She then is asked to run a marathon distance of a mile and three-eighths on the turf. There, she earned an 87, improving by 8 points.
Following that effort she returned to dirt, cut back to a one mile dirt race at Belmont Park, running faster and better in the Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes when she’s asked to tackle a monster in Monomoy Girl.
The interesting note here is that she actually gained a half length on the champion from the six furlong marker to the wire, an indication that the longer distance of the Personal Ensign could better suit her talents and conditioning–and it did.
In the Personal Ensign, Vexatious ran a final time that was about one fifth of a second slower than the boys ran in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes, the slow early pace notwithstanding.
For this effort, Vexatious jumped up 14 more points to earn a 107. With that, she has thrust her name squarely into the very competitive BC Distaff conversation.
Midnight Bisou lost absolutely nothing in defeat. On this day, where she spotted a peaking rival four pounds, a significant spread at nine furlongs, she was beaten by a head.
Midnight Bisou was up against a mare that is improving at 6 and was locked and loaded for the race, brilliantly executed by her trainer, Jack Sisterson, who proved worthy of the recent attention he’s been getting.
So now Distaff table talk includes the likes of Monomoy Girl, Midnight Bisou, Fighting Mad, Ollie’s Candy, Ce Ce, Point Of Honor and Vexatious, Wow!
Who knows, the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff might turn out to be even more competitive than the Classic?