Why I'm Betting Elate in the Personal Ensign Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 23rd, 2018

On paper, it’s not hard to reach the conclusion that Saturday’s $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga is essentially a match race between #1 Abel Tasman and #6 Elate.

That’s certainly an exciting prospect considering the fantastic show they put on over this track and distance in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) last summer, a race in which Abel Tasman gamely edged Elate by a head. We can only hope that the Personal Ensign produces a similarly exciting finish!

Since that showdown at Saratoga, the two fillies have raced on with success. Abel Tasman finished well clear of Elate when second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) and most recently romped to a 7 ½-length score in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I) on June 9th at Belmont Park. In contrast, Elate rattled off back-to-back wins in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) and Beldame Invitational (gr. I) before finishing fourth in the Distaff; then, in her 2018 debut, Elate was much the best in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) going ten furlongs.

In terms of Beyer and BRIS speed figures, Abel Tasman has generally been the faster filly, but if there’s one chink in her armor, it’s the fact that she can be difficult to ride and frequently makes premature mid-race moves to challenge for the lead. That arguably cost her victory in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) last fall, and it probably didn’t help her chances in the Coaching Club American Oaks, where she was all-out to hold off Elate. I also wonder if nine furlongs is actually at the very limit of Abel Tasman’s distance capabilities; I’d argue that her efforts going shorter (and around one turn) have been among her best.

For those reasons, I’m going to side with Elate in the Personal Ensign. Elate was spectacular winning the Alabama Stakes by 5 ½ lengths here last summer (leaving the future Grade 1 winners It Tiz Well and Salty far behind), and her comeback win in the Delaware Handicap was achieved with authority. I think she can step up even higher in her second start of the season, and in this small field, her ability to sit patiently in mid-pack and bid at just the right time could give her a subtle advantage over the impatient and impulsive Abel Tasman. With luck, Elate should be able to secure the victory and a "Win and You're In" berth to the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

With this in mind, I’ll play Elate over Abel Tasman in a straight exacta while adding the Chad Brown-trained Chilean super filly #4 Wow Cat to the mix for third place:

$20 exacta: 6 with 1 ($20) $10 trifecta: 6 with 1 with 4 ($10)

Good luck!