Favored Icon Project, ridden by Julien Leparoux, demolished her rivals with a Rachel Alexandra-type performance Aug. 30 in the $400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Saratoga Race course.
Icon Project stalked the pace in the 1 1/4-mile event for fillies and mares over a track rated "good," taking the lead on the outside of Weathered as the field left the final turn. Under slight urging from Leparoux, the 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker pressed her advantage quickly as no threat emerged from the pack.
When Leparoux stole a quick look back at the eighth pole, he realized he was all by himself and rode Icon Project evenly to the wire. The 9-5 favorite posted her first grade I victory by 13 1/2 lengths. Swift Temper, ridden by Alan Garcia, finished best of the rest for second. Morena won the photo for third. The final time was 2:02.37.
Marty Wolfson trains Icon Project for owner Andrew Rosen. The bay filly won the off-the-turf New York Stakes (gr. III) on a muddy Belmont Park track by 13 1/4 lengths June 20, but finished second to Swift Temper in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) on a fast track in her last start July 19.
Weathered went to the front soon after the start as Unbridled Belle escaped the rail to stalk the leader on the outside with Icon Project and the Peruvian-bred Morena just behind them. The fractions on the tiring racetrack were realistic -- :23.81, :47.62 and 1:11.31 -- but as the field made its way around the final turn, Unbridled Belle began to fall back. Icon Project, never far off, engaged the leader at the quarter pole. She had a narrow edge as they reached the stretch and quickly opened a commanding lead, lengthening her advantage while being kept to the task in a smashing effort.
“For once she left the gate well, so I lay pretty close to the pace today," Leparoux said. "At the three-eighths pole she just grabbed the bit from me and she kept on going. She didn’t get tired at all, she just kept on going the whole way.”
Swift Temper, who rallied on the outside from sixth, took second by 5 1/2 lengths over Morena and jockey Jose Lezcano.
“She had a little problem of handling the track because it was still wet," Garcia said of the runner-up. "She made me work harder than the last time (in Delaware). When I saw the other filly run away, I just wanted to hold on for second.”
Morena finished a half-length in front of second choice Miss Isella, the 120-pound high weight. Then came Weathered, With Flying Colors, Sea Chanter , and Unbridled Belle, who came into the race as the only grade I winner in the field.
Unraced at 2, Icon Project began her career in Great Britain in 2008 with trainer Brian Meehan. She won one of five races in Europe before transferring to Wolfson to commence her 4-year-old campaign in Florida in February. She won one of three starts on turf in Florida, which included a third-place finish in the April 25 La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder, then turned in her big win in the New York. She has remained on the main track since.
"I had been wanting to run her on the dirt – she’s by Empire Maker, and she trained great on dirt, ever since I got her from overseas," Wolfson said. "When she was tugging at him at the three-eighths pole, it was just a question of how far she was going to win by. It was just like the New York Handicap."
Wolfson, who won his fourth grade I race at Saratoga, said he would review his options before making a decision on Icon Project's next start. The trainer's other grade I wins at the Spa were with Chaposa Springs in the 1995 Test and the 1996 Ballerina and Pomeroy in the 2006 Forego.
Icon Project improved her career mark to 4-2-2 in 11 starts. The winning purse, $240,000, increased her earnings to $660,965.
A $775,000 yearling sale at Keeneland in 2006, Icon Project was bred in Kentucky by Ronald Carter Family Trust. The bay filly is out of grade I winner La Gueriere, a daughter of Lord At War. La Gueriere also produced multiple graded winner Lasting Approval. La Gueriere captured the 1991 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland. She is a half-sister to grade I winner and millionaire Al Mamoon (by Believe It).
Icon Project carried 116 pounds and paid $5.60, $3.30, and $3.10, topping a $2 exacta of $25.40.
The multiple graded winner Swift Temper, who defeated Icon Project by more than two lengths in the Del 'Cap for trainer Dale Romans, returned $4.80 and $4.20.
“That filly ran a freaky race," Romans said of the winner. "It was very impressive. Of course, we are disappointed that we didn't win, but we're still happy with the way our mare ran, but she was outrun by the winner today..”
Morena, fourth in the Delaware Handicap, was $10 to show in her third start since arriving in the U.S. from her native Peru. Michael Matz trains the 5-year-old mare.