(Nest / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House’s Nest will look to keep her perfect Saratoga Race Course record intact in Friday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old Curlin bay enters the nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares with a stellar Spa ledger, including Grade 1 wins in last year’s Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama to go along with a last-out win off the bench on July 23 in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Shuvee.

The reigning Champion 3-Year-Old Filly captured last year’s Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland ahead of a runner-up effort to returning rival Secret Oath in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. She gained redemption with a stellar summer campaign that began with a runner-up effort against the boys in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.

“She had a spectacular season as a 3-year-old and I think her Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama wins were two of the most impressive races we saw at Saratoga last year. It earned her a Championship and she’s come back and is training even better at four,” said Pletcher, who along with his wife, Tracy, were honored Wednesday with the Marylou Whitney award for service to the backstretch community.

Nest finished fourth as the mutuel favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Keeneland to close out her Championship campaign, but returned victorious off an eight-month layoff when besting multiple Grade 1-winner Clairiere – another returning foe – by 2 1/4-lengths in the Shuvee under a forward ride by the Spa’s leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Pletcher admitted to being concerned at facing seasoned company off the layoff.

“It was all the way from the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and it was a delayed start. Running a mile and an eighth against a mare like Clairiere was asking a lot,” Pletcher said. “But I was impressed by the way she did it and even more impressed by the way she came out of it and the way she’s trained since then.”

Pletcher noted the class and athleticism of the ultra-consistent Nest, who graduated at first asking traveling 1 1/16-miles in September 2021 at Belmont Park and two starts later captured the nine-furlong Grade 2 Demoiselle at the Big A.

“She has that rare ability to quicken at the end of a dirt race – you don’t see a lot of horses show that display of turn of foot at the top of the stretch like we see her do,” Pletcher said. “She’s just a very, very special filly. She was one that we felt like early on – she didn’t debut until the fall – that like some of the Curlins, she didn’t want to be a five-furlong type horse, so we took our time with her and debuted going long.

“She’s shown that ability to get stronger the further she goes,” added Pletcher. “She’s very easy to train and she’s very relaxed in her gallops. Everything comes very easy to her. If you want her to work slow, she’ll do that. If you want her to work fast, she can do that. She’s a trainer’s dream really. She does whatever she asks you to do.”

Pletcher has saddled three previous Personal Ensign-winners in Fleet Indian [2006], Love and Pride [2012] and Malathaat [2022] and is one victory shy of equaling a record shared by fellow Hall of Famers Shug McGaughey and Mack Miller.

Ortiz, Jr. retains the mount from post 5 aboard Nest, who is assigned a co-field high 124 pounds.

Stonestreet Stables’ Kentucky homebred Clairiere [post 6, Joel Rosario, 124 pounds] will look to turn the tables after tracking from last-of-4 in the Shuvee and attempting an inside move on Nest at the top of the lane. She then angled outside her familiar foe and chased gamely to finish 2 1/4-lengths back of the winner with 10 lengths back to third-place Skratch Kat.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the classy Curlin bay has banked in excess of $3.1 million through a record of 20-8-6-3 led by Grade 1 scores in the 2021 Cotillion at Parx, the Apple Blossom Handicap in April at Oaklawn Park and back-to-back editions of the Ogden Phipps [2022-23] at Belmont.

Clairiere, who captured the Shuvee here last year ahead of a troubled fifth in the Personal Ensign, worked five-eighths in 1:01.21 on August 13 over the Oklahoma training track and followed with a half-mile breeze over the same track in 49.22 this morning.

“I’m very happy with how she’s training,” Asmussen said. “Obviously, Nest is a very tall order. We’ll see how we do, but we couldn’t be happier with Clairiere going in. She’s a four-time Grade 1 winner of $3 million. She’s covered plenty of ground.”

Clairiere is out of the three-time Grade 1-winning Bernardini mare Cavorting, who banked more than $2 million through a record of 13-8-1-1.

Briland Farm’s Secret Oath will look to get back to winning ways for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas when re-united with jockey Luis Saez from post 3 carrying 122 pounds.

The 4-year-old Arrogate chestnut enjoyed a tremendous sophomore season with Saez at the helm, capturing the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn en route to victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, besting Nest by two lengths.

She completed the exacta in both the CCA Oaks and Alabama and was third in the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx before capping her sophomore season with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff after making an early move.

Secret Oath made four tries this year under Tyler Gaffalione, beginning with a pair of starts at Oaklawn that featured a win in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Azeri when 2 3/4-lengths better than Clairiere, before that foe turned the tables on her next out by a neck in the Apple Blossom. Secret Oath narrowly missed when second by a neck to Played Hard in the Grade 1 La Troienne in May at Churchill and was last seen finishing a flat fifth in the Ogden Phipps.

Secret Oath has banked more than $2.3 million through a record of 17-6-4-3.
A new face at the top flight is Juddmonte’s well-bred Idiomatic [post 1, Florent Geroux, 120 pounds], who has garnered back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures from wins in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Shawnee [102] in June at Churchill and the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap [100] on July 8.

Trained by Brad Cox, the 4-year-old Curlin bay is out of the multiple graded stakes-placed First Defence mare Lockdown, who is a full-sister to 2014 Champion Older Mare Close Hatches.

“I like her a lot. Obviously, she’s a Juddmonte homebred and you’re not lacking on pedigree there,” Cox said. “I think she’s a big, strong Curlin that should like this surface up here. We train her across the street [on the Oklahoma] and I love what we’ve seen from her so far.”

Idiomatic overcame a troubled trip as the odds-on favorite to win the 1 3/16-mile Delaware Handicap, while carrying a field-high 121 pounds under returning rider Florent Geroux and best graded stakes-winner Classy Edition by a head.

“A stumble away from there – it was not the trip we were expecting, but she was able to overcome some things throughout the race and stay on for the win,” Cox said. “We’re hopeful against this Grade 1 company we can get away well and get a little bit cleaner trip.”

Idiomatic made five of her first six starts over the Turfway Park synthetic, graduating on debut last April and taking a 10-furlong optional claimer in February ahead of a first stakes score in the 1 1/16-mile Latonia in March.
She has worked four times over the Oklahoma training track, including a bullet five-eighths in 1:00.20 on August 11 and a five-furlong effort in 1:01.88 Saturday.

“She breezed last week, this week as well. She was meant to breeze Friday but we held it one day just because of the wet weather. Love what we saw from her,” Cox said.

Rounding out a talented field is graded stakes-winner Sixtythreecaliber [post 4, Kendrick Carmouche, 118 pounds] for trainer Tom Amoss and owners MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm; and Coffeepot Stables’ graded stakes-placed Malloy [post 2, Dylan Davis, 118 pounds] for trainer Wayne Catalano.

The Personal Ensign is slated as Race 9 on Friday’s 10-race card which also features the $150,000 Smart N Fancy in Race 3. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

Saratoga Live will present live coverage and analysis of the Saratoga Race Course summer meet on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule/.