Friday’s $500,000 Personal Ensign (G1) offered a rematch between champion Nest and Clairiere, but it was the other Curlin filly, up-and-coming Idiomatic, who upstaged them both at Saratoga. On a sloppy track that likely magnified her advantage as the pacesetter, the Juddmonte homebred kept rolling to score in her Grade 1 debut.
“It’s huge,” trainer Brad Cox said of toppling Nest and Clairiere. “They’re champions. They’ve accomplished so much, and they’re still in good form. I’m very proud of her to win by a few lengths there. Big race and I’m very proud of her.”
Idiomatic ranked as the 4-1 third choice following back-to-back wins in the Shawnee (G3) and Delaware H. (G2). The bay had wired the former at Churchill Downs, but last time out in Delaware, she took herself out of her game by stumbling at the start. The lightly-raced four-year-old did well to recover from that miscue, adjust her style, and get up to win by a head.
Drawn on the rail at the Spa, Idiomatic made no mistake. Jockey Florent Geroux was able to leverage her early speed, and position, to take charge through an opening quarter in :24.53. Malloy, the 45-1 longest shot on the board, tracked without applying meaningful pressure through the steady tempo of :48.84 and 1:12.61.
Nest, the 3-4 favorite, was in striking position in third, although she had to be nudged to take closer order on the far turn. On a fast track, the Todd Pletcher filly might well have been cruising on her own volition. Nest fans had reason to be concerned when she didn’t pick up as strongly as usual upon straightening into the stretch. Backers of the 3.10-1 Clairiere knew their fate by then, with the $3.1-million earner trudging along in the rear.
The one who briefly looked like threatening was Secret Oath. Last year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine cut the corner, and moving better than Nest, set her sights on the front runner. But her bid flattened out by midstretch.
Idiomatic continued to gallop with verve down the lane, emulating her “aunt,” champion Close Hatches, who romped in a muddy Personal Ensign in 2014. Increasing her margin to four lengths, Idiomatic cove red 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.12.
Secret Oath beat Nest by a neck for runner-up honors. There was a 12-length gap back to Malloy in fourth. Clairiere ran as though not handling the surface in fifth, and Sixtythreecaliber trailed.
Idiomatic achieved millionaire status, boosting her earnings to $1,049,490 from a record of 10-7-1-2. Geroux and Cox sounded similar themes in their postrace comments.
“Much better, to be honest,” Geroux said of her break. “In the Delaware H., it could’ve went really wrong. I almost got unseated. My two feet at some time they were like off the filly, but she was able re-rally last time. I was very pleased, I didn’t know if she was going to run that big off the pace.
“Today was a clean break, a great draw, and like you can see on the PPs, it was not going to be much pace so I just took advantage of it, set some very reasonable fractions, and when she started picking up, you know, slowly at the half-mile pole, I thought she was going to be extremely hard to catch at this point.”
“She schooled well leading up to this,” Cox said. “We schooled her twice. I thought, as long as she got away well – we couldn’t stumble or stub our toe today – we needed to get away well and establish position early. Florent did that, and it worked out well.
“We loved her in the Del ‘Cap. She overcame a tremendous amount with a really hard stumble at the start. Florent was lucky to stay on her that day. For her to overcome that, gradually creep up and finish up well and beat a good filly in Todd’s, Classy Edition (from the Pletcher barn) – that’s a very good filly she was able to beat late. She’s a good filly, and I felt she had a Grade 1 in her.”
Both jockey and trainer believed that Idiomatic would perform in sloppy conditions.
“No, I was not, honestly,” Geroux responded when asked if he had any concerns about the track. “I almost liked it. Today it was a sloppy track, but it was pretty tight. You can see some earlier races today, especially the two-year-old of Mr. Pletcher ran really fast (Fierceness, who crushed a six-furlong maiden in 1:09.56). When the strip is very deep and tiring, they don’t go that fast.”
“Based off the paper,” Cox said, “I felt pretty confident she could establish a pretty solid lead. I liked her (on a wet track) – just the way she’s made. She’s big, but she’s not real heavy. I thought she could bounce through it, I really did. I liked what I saw earlier on the card with the times being a little quick.”
Pletcher felt that Nest didn’t run up to her absolute best in the slop, while recognizing that Idiomatic was a danger given the race shape.
“We got the trip we were expecting to get,” the Hall of Famer said. “We got into the first turn in the position we wanted to be in. We had to sacrifice a little ground, but it seemed like she was traveling pretty well down the backside. The winner is a quality mare and was setting down pretty easy fractions.
“The one thing it just didn’t seem like (Nest) had on this gooey going is that acceleration at the top of the stretch. Usually she has that ability to quicken, and on this surface she just couldn’t do that. (Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.) thought she was handling it fine until it came time to punch. He said she kept grinding away, but she just didn’t have that turn of foot like she does on a fast track.
“(Idiomatic) just beat us in the Delaware Handicap,” Pletcher added, “and she’s a good filly. Anytime you take a quality horse and you go 12, 12, 12 and 12 (seconds per furlong), it’s hard to make up ground. I was hoping someone would try to mix it up a little bit with her, but we were still trying to get into that stalking position where we weren’t too far off it. We were able to do it but she was unable to quicken the last part.”
Nest could get another shot at Idiomatic in the Oct. 8 Spinster (G1) at Keeneland, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) mentioned by both camps as a potential target.
“Strong possibility,” Cox said regarding Idiomatic’s chance of turning up in the Spinster. “We’ll talk it over with Prince Khalid’s family and come up with a game plan.
“I think she would like Keeneland. Breeders’ Cup is obviously the main goal, but how we get there I’m not sure yet.”
Idiomatic might have made her mark at a higher level earlier, if not for a setback in the spring of her three-year-old season. Cox brought her along the comeback trail at Turfway Park over the winter, and she won three straight on the Tapeta, culminating in the March 25 Latonia S. Up in class for the May 6 Ruffian (G2) at Belmont Park, Idiomatic was second on the cutback to a one-turn mile. But she’d shown enough to prove her dirt aptitude.
“The week before I ran her in the Ruffian,” Cox revealed, “I told Garrett (O’Rourke of Juddmonte) this filly will run on the dirt. It was an unbelievable breeze. She was second that day to Pass the Champagne, but her works on the dirt have been great all spring and into the summer. She gave us a lot of confidence this spring and summer. I’ve been confident in her for a while.”
Idiomatic has outperformed her dam, Lockdown, who won the 2017 Busanda S. but couldn’t land a graded trophy. Second in the Mother Goose (G2) and Gazelle (G2), she was third in the Kentucky Oaks and Cotillion (G1) and fourth in her Spinster finale.
Lockdown remained in the shadow of older sister Close Hatches, the champion older dirt female of 2014. After a successful sophomore campaign with wins in the 2013 Cotillion, Mother Goose (then a Grade 1), and Gazelle, and a runner-up effort to Hall of Famer Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Close Hatches went on a tear at four. The Personal Ensign capped a four-race winning streak comprising the Azeri (G2), Apple Blossom (G1), and Ogden Phipps (G1).
Close Hatches is herself the dam of multiple Grade 2 hero and dual classic-placed Tacitus. She and Lockdown are the offspring of Juddmonte parents First Defence and Rising Tornado (by Storm Cat), thus closely related to Irish classic winner Siskin.