(Nest wins the G2 Shuvee Stakes on Sunday / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Reigning Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Nest came back from a nearly nine-month layoff with aplomb to score in Sunday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Shuvee for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, turning back the challenge of multiple Grade 1-winner Clairiere to capture the nine-furlong main track test for older fillies and mares.

Owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, the 4-year-old daughter of Curlin stalked and pounced to victory under Saratoga’s current meet-leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. to earn the sixth graded score of her career and third at Saratoga, adding to Grade 1 triumphs last year in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama to boast a perfect 3-for-3 record at the Spa.

“More than worth the wait,” said co-owner Mike Repole, who had to wait a bit longer than planned for Nest’s return after she missed the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps in June at Belmont Park. “At the end of the day, you want a horse like this best for the last four races of the year, not the first four. She had a huge 3-year-old campaign. We wanted to get her back in June on Belmont day but Todd just thought she needed a little bit more time.

“Going a mile and an eighth after eight, nine months off against a horse like Clairiere, that was real impressive,” Repole continued. “They could have gone around two more times, she wasn’t going to be passed. Todd did an amazing job, give him credit. Irad is just Irad. No one better than him right now.”

Nest emerged from post 2 in the compact four-horse field and led to the first turn before Ortiz, Jr. took hold and let the Kendrick Carmouche-piloted Pistol Liz Ablazen coast up the rail and take command through an opening quarter-mile in 24.82 seconds over the fast main track while the Joel Rosario-piloted Clairiere was on even terms with Skratch Kat at the rear of the field.

“I was in a perfect position from the first turn and after that just sit on her,” said Ortiz, Jr. “She’s waiting for me. I was ready to go by the half-mile. If he [Rosario] gets close to me, maybe I go with him, because it was like a match race.”

The running order remained unchanged down the backstretch with the half-mile in 49.87 before Ortiz, Jr. roused Nest for more approaching the turn and opted for the outside path around Pistol Liz Ablazen to make her bid for the lead. The two matched strides midway through the turn before Nest swept past with ease and opened a one-length advantage on the advancing Clairiere, who followed her run to the top of the lane.

Clairiere attempted to move up to the inside of Nest before the latter ducked down inside for the drive to the wire with an all-out Skratch Kat and a tiring Pistol Liz Ablazen left in their wake. Clairiere dug in under urging from Joel Rosario to make one final surge outside of Nest in the final sixteenth, but Nest had plenty left in the final strides to cross the wire first in a final time of 1:50.72. Clairiere finished 10 lengths ahead of Skratch Kat with Pistol Liz Ablazen completing the order of finish.

Pletcher, who tied fellow Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens’ record five Shuvee wins, said Nest’s trip was influenced by the pace set by Pistol Liz Ablazen, who inherited the role of pacesetter after the defection of the often-prominent Grade 1-winner Played Hard earlier this week for trainer Phil Bauer.

“I’m super proud of the filly. She’s all class and it’s nice to see her come back and get back on track. We got a bit of a delayed start, but she showed she’s still in top-class form,” Pletcher said. “I think the first half-mile was critical. We wanted her to get some position. We thought Kendrick would likely be the pacesetter, but he waited a little while to go. Irad held his position until she cleared him and then got into that comfortable rhythm. From that point, it was just seeing where and when Clairiere was going to make her move.”

Ortiz, Jr., the pilot in all but one of Nest’s career starts, said his mount ran strongly through the final quarter-mile.

“She finished good. She finished great,” said Ortiz, Jr. “She finished great all the way to the wire. I don’t hit her. Joel’s filly is a nice filly, with respect. I mean I don’t like to talk about that but they are two nice fillies. So, we got lucky we got the trophy today and we are happy, everyone is enjoying the win.”

In addition to her Grade 1 triumphs at Saratoga, Nest’s championship season included an 8 1/4-length romp in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland and another open-lengths score in the Grade 2 Beldame at Belmont at the Big A, as well as gutsy runner-up efforts in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets against males. She completed her year with a fourth-place effort as the favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Keeneland.

Pletcher added the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign on August 25 at the Spa could serve as the next stepping stone towards another year-end trip to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park.

“We’d like to run back in the Personal Ensign if we think that’s enough time,” said Pletcher. “The ultimate decision will be what we do for a prep for the Breeders’ Cup. Do we go back to New York like we did last year or possibly the Spinster at Keeneland? Obviously, we have to suss out how she comes out of it. My initial assessment is she came back with pretty good energy.”

Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables, Nest banked $110,000 in victory and improved her lifetime record to 12-8-2-1. She returned $3.70 for a $2 win ticket as the 4-5 post-time second choice.

Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, trainer of Clairiere, said the lukewarm fractions did not help the daughter of Curlin, who entered from back-to-back Grade 1 triumphs in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn and Ogden Phipps at Belmont.

“She’s a great mare. Just getting caught up in these races that have zero pace in them,” Asmussen said. “She just needed to do more early and get involved.”

Third-place finisher Skratch Kat earned the first blacktype of her career, giving trainer Phil Bauer slight consolation after Played Hard spiked a temperature and was unable to make the race.

“A little glimmer of light there at the end of the story,” said Bauer. “That was fun. I’m glad it worked out and we got the filly some black type. Usually, I’d be worried with a 1:14 third quarter with this filly, but you could tell she had something left in the tank. Mission accomplished for that filly.”

Live racing resumes on Wednesday at Saratoga with a 10-race card, featuring the Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap in Race 4. 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/.