Abel Tasman Edges Elate in Thrilling Personal Ensign Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 26th, 2018

Neck and neck, nose to nose, Abel Tasman and Elate came roaring down the homestretch in Saturday’s $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, a “Win and You’re In” prep race for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I).

The two accomplished fillies had met once before at Saratoga, pushing each other to the limit in a thrilling renewal of the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I). Thirteen months later, they met again over the same track and distance, and the result was nothing less than spectacular.

The Personal Ensign was a perfect illustration of their respective talents and running styles. Abel Tasman, as usual, settled in mid-pack early on under jockey Mike Smith while Elate—with Jose Ortiz in the saddle—rated toward the rear of the field while the longshot She Takes Heart sprinted the opening quarter-mile in :23.31 seconds.

Then, following her typical script, Abel Tasman unleashed a strong early move to seize command from the leaders, sprinting the second quarter-mile in a rapid :22.71 seconds while doing so. From there, Abel Tasman settled down and casually waited for Elate to challenge. It wasn’t a long wait—rounding the far turn, Elate advanced strongly in between horses and loomed up outside of Abel Tasman, setting up a thrilling run down the homestretch.

Abel Tasman and Elate. Neck and neck, nose to nose. A repeat of the Coaching Club American Oaks, right down to some drama and controversy as both fillies drifted around in the stretch and exchanged bumps. Abel Tasman, clinging tenaciously to her advantage, refused to yield as the wire approached and gallantly held off Elate’s determined surge to win by a neck, stopping the clock in a fast 1:47.19 seconds for nine furlongs.
No matter how you slice it, this was a strong race that should come back fast on the speed figure scales. Just look at the gap between Elate and the third-place finisher Wow Cat—9 ¾ lengths. You can argue that Elate might have run the better race since she endured a came from further behind on a day when speed seemed advantageous, but then again, it was Abel Tasman’s ability to make a big mid-race move and sustain it that ultimately put her in the superior position. Tactical speed that can be used at any point as needed is not to be underestimated.

The Personal Ensign was Abel Tasman’s second Grade 1 win of the year, and at this point she has to be considered the front-runner to be voted champion older mare of 2018. But her hold on the division title, like her margin of victory on Saturday, is tenuous; Elate has proven herself to be a worthy rival, and the winner of the Eclipse Award could well be determined by the outcome of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November.

A championship settled on the track between two evenly-matched rivals? It doesn’t get much better than that!