Idiomatic: From Turfway to G1 Personal Ensign

By Ryan Martin, NYRA press office (Coglianese photos)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – In a race that was advertised as a showdown between 2022 Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Nest and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Clairiere, it was Juddmonte’s fifth generation homebred Idiomatic who rose to the occasion with a frontrunning score in Friday’s 76th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course. 

The prestigious nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares is one of the most important races on the racing calendar for older fillies and mares and has seen four of its last six winners collect Eclipse Award honors for Champion Older Dirt Female following their respective campaigns, including Forever Unbridled [2017], Midnight Bisou [2019], Letruska [2021] and Malathaat [2022]. 

Idiomatic made a case for herself amongst a competitive older filly division, entering her Grade 1 debut from a pair of two-turn graded scores, en route to a gate-to-wire conquest for trainer Brad Cox. 

After posting a 2 1/2-length triumph over returning rival Sixtythreecaliber in the Grade 3 Shawnee on June 3 at Churchill Downs, she defeated graded stakes-winning New York-bred Classy Edition by a head in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap on July 8 at Delaware Park.

“It’s huge. They’re Champions,” said Cox on beating Nest and Clairiere. “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.

“I want to congratulate Juddmonte, Prince Khalid and his family for keeping the legacy going,” Cox added. “They have a tremendous operation worldwide and this is a huge update for the farm and their operation. This filly is a homebred, so it means a lot.”

Idiomatic broke from the rail and quickly assumed position on the front end with 45-1 longshot Malloy tracking to her outside a close second and Nest widest of all in third through an opening quarter-mile in a moderate 24.53 seconds over the sloppy and sealed track. 

Idiomatic extended her advantage to 1 1/2 lengths through a half-mile in 48.84 with Nest looming large to the outside of a toiling Malloy to garner second in chase of the frontrunner, who clocked three-quarters in 1:12.61 with Secret Oath launching an inside rally from fourth. 

Exiting the turn, Florent Geroux was all out aboard Idiomatic who maintained a one-length command at the stretch call. As Secret Oath and Nest, the one-two finishers of last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, battled for place honors, Idiomatic was wrapped up in the final strides and strolled home a four-length winner in a final time of 1:49.12.

Secret Oath finished second, a neck in front of Nest. It was another dozen lengths back to Malloy, with Clairiere and Sixtythreecaliber completing the order of finish. 

Now boasting a 10-7-1-2 record, Idiomatic has won over four different racetracks. In addition to her graded stakes wins, she is a four-time winner over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface, including a 10-furlong allowance triumph in January and a triumphant stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Latonia in March. 

Geroux said he was not concerned regarding the sloppy track, citing the impressive 2-year-old Fierceness, who romped to victory earlier on the card for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. 

“I almost liked it. Today it was a sloppy track, but it was pretty tight,” Geroux said. “You can see some earlier races today, especially the two-year-old of Mr. Pletcher ran really fast. When the trip is very deep and tiring, they don’t go that fast. And I thought that was a nice track, she handled very well the Churchill track which is a harder track, and she handled very well the Polytrack at Turfway Park. So I didn’t think the surface was going to be a problem at all.”

Cox echoed Geroux’s sentiments, pointing out the Norm Casse-conditioned Ontheonesandtwos, who won going six furlongs against allowance optional claiming company in Race 7. 

“Based off the paper, 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,” Cox said. “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 and we have two [races in] nine and change [1:09 and change] with Norm’s filly and the 2-year-old race was nine and change. The horses were skipping over it and that gave me a little confidence as well.”

Cox said the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster on October 8 at Keeneland would be a “strong possibility” with the ultimate objective being the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Santa Anita. 

“We’ll talk it over with Prince Khalid’s family and come up with a game plan,” Cox said. “I think she would like Keeneland. Breeders’ Cup is obviously the main goal, but how we get there I’m not sure yet.”

The Spinster could see a rematch between Idiomatic and Nest, according to the latter’s conditioner Todd Pletcher, who added that the sloppy track may have hampered his talented filly’s chances. 

“We got the trip we were expecting to get. We got into the first turn in the position we wanted to be in,” Pletcher said. “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.”

A 4-year-old daughter of Curlin, who also sired Nest and Clairiere, Idiomatic can add both “Grade 1 winner” and “millionaire” to her resume as she banked $275,000 in victory, pushing her lifetime earnings to $1,049,490. 

Idiomatic is the first progeny out of the 2017 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Lockdown – a full sister to 2014 Champion Older Mare Close Hatches, who captured that year’s Personal Ensign over a muddy and sealed track. She hails from the prominent bloodlines of influential matriarch Best in Show. 

The Personal Ensign honors the undefeated Hall of Fame distaffer, who never lost in 13 lifetime starts for Ogden Phipps and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. The 1988 Champion Older Mare’s illustrious career earned eight Grade 1 scores including a victory against males in that year’s Whitney Handicap at Saratoga as well as a swan song in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs, where she defeated that year’s Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors as well as 1988 Kentucky Oaks winner Goodbye Halo. As a broodmare, Personal Ensign produced Grade 1-winners Miner’s Mark, and Traditionally as well as 1995 Breeders’ Cup Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner My Flag, whose daughter Storm Flag Flying won the same event in 2002 as well as her grandmother’s namesake race in 2004. 

Live racing resumes Saturday at the Spa for a loaded 13-race Travers Day card, headlined by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers in Race 12 and co-featuring four additional Grade 1 events. First post is 11:40 a.m. Eastern.      

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.