Personal Ensign, a champion on the track and in the breeding shed, died April 8 at the Hancock family’s Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. She was 26.
Pensioned from broodmare duty since 2006, Ogden Phipps' homebred daughter of Private Account–Grecian Banner, by Hoist the Flag died of natural causes.
Undefeated in 13 starts, Personal Ensign is described as one of the greatest race mares of all-time. Her first of eight grade I wins came in the 1986 Frizette Stakes (gr. I) as a 2-year-old. Sidelined by a fractured pastern for nearly a year following that effort, Personal Ensign returned the following September to sweep two consecutive Belmont Park allowance events before rejoining stakes company with a win in the Rare Perfume Stakes (gr. II). Two weeks later, she won the Beldame Stakes (gr. I).
Trained by Hall of Fame Shug McGaughey, Personal Ensign’s most memorable season came as a 4-year-old in 1988, when she repeated in the Beldame, beat males in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, and emerged victorious in four other grade I events. But the most memorable moment of the great mare’s campaign occurred in her final race, the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. Seemingly beaten on a sloppy track, Personal Ensign roared down the stretch in the final stages of the race to catch free-wheeling Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors by a nose. Personal Ensign retired after that effort as the champion older mare of 1988 with $1,679,880 in the bank.
"She was a wonderful filly who overcame injury to win 13 straight races," McGaughey said. "She was certainly one of my all-time favorites. She was a career maker."
As a broodmare, Personal Ensign, a full sister to grade I winner Personal Flag, accomplished what many great race mares are unable to: she emulated her greatest wins through her progeny. Her first foal, Miner's Mark, was a grade I winner, and her second foal, the Mr. Prospector colt Our Emblem, is the sire of 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem. My Flag, a daughter of Easy Goer–Personal Ensign, won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), and her daughter, Storm Flag Flying, reproduced that effort with a win in the 2002 edition of that race. Another Personal Ensign colt, Traditionally, was a grade I winner in 2001, and another daughter, Title Seeker, is the dam of recent Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) winner Seeking the Title.
"Personal Ensign was the first Breeders' Cup winner for my grandfather and for Shug and she was just a very special horse to everyone in our family," said Daisy Phipps Pulito. "After her racing career ended, she was a big part of our broodmare operation. It's a very sad day for all of us."
"All of us with the Breeders' Cup were saddened to hear the news today of the passing of Personal Ensign," said Breeders' Cup chairman William S. Farish Jr. "The courage and detemination she displayed in winning the 1988 Distaff exemplified the heart of a champion and will always live as one of the greatest moments in racing history."
Personal Ensign was named Broodmare of the Year in 1996. She has been buried at the Marchmont Cemetery at Claiborne Farm along with other Phipps family horses like Easy Goer, Private Account, Numbered Account, and Relaxing.