Persistently lived up to her name when she wore down reigning Horse of the Year and odds-on choice Rachel Alexandra for a one-length victory in the $294,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 29 (VIDEO). In an ironic twist, the winning 21-1 shot is trained by Shug McGaughey, who also conditioned the undefeated Personal Ensign for the Phipps family, who campaign homebred Persistently.
The Personal Ensign was Rachel Alexandra's first try at 1 1/4 miles and the final furlong told on the champion filly, who could not hold off the Alan Garcia-piloted Persistently even though she had a 3 1/2-length lead mid-stretch. Jockey Calvin Borel urged Rachel Alexandra vigorously, but to no avail as Persistently swept past in the final strides.
A crowd of 23,347 sent Rachel Alexandra off as the 2-5 choice in her first start at the Spa since her thrilling win over older males in the Woodward (gr. I) last year.
Persistently is a a 4-year-old Kentucky homebred daughter of Smoke Glacken --Just Reward, by Deputy Minister, who registered her first stakes win in the Personal Ensign. Saratoga once again lived up to its reputation as the "The Graveyard of Favorites."
Life At Ten finished a distant third after contesting the pace with Rachel Alexandra .
The final time was a slow 2:04.49 over a fast track.
Like Rachel Alexandra, Persistenly was also making her first start at 10 furlongs, but McGaughey was confident she would handle the extra distance.
“Obviously with a filly like Rachel Alexandra in the race, we knew we were a long shot," McGaughey said. "But we did think she’d run a mile and a quarter. It was Mr. Phipps’ decision. He said to me, ‘If it’s going to be a short field; I’d like to give it a try.’ "
McGaughey added: “We’re just tickled to death to win the race, particularly with it being the Personal Ensign. My hat’s off to Rachel Alexandra. She runs her heart out every time. She made a beautiful presence in the paddock today. We were just lucky enough to pick up the pieces.”
Rachel Alexandra was aggressive leaving the gate for Borel, taking the lead over Life At Ten and carrying her rival wide into the clubhouse turn. Rachel Alexandra carved solid early fractions -- :23.66, :47.73 and 1:12.02 -- but could not shake stubborn Life At Ten, who was ridden by John Velazquez. Persistently, meanwhile was reserved off the pacesetters in fourth by about nine lengths early before beginning to close in approaching the final turn.
Rachel Alexandra stayed cool while repulsing a bid from Life At Ten rounding the bend, but Persistently was picking it up for Garcia from the three-eighths pole.
Persistently swung four wide into the lane and swept past Life At Ten approaching mid-stretch. But she still had much ground to close on Rachel Alexandra, who had inched away to a big lead. Rachel Alexandra shortened stride in the final sixteenth of a mile and Persistently kept coming, getting up in plenty of time.
“She had a very good trip all the way behind the leaders," Garcia said of the winner. "At the three-eighths pole, I knew I had to move, and she did it. I knew she was doing this well."
Borel said he felt the defeat coming.
“After we put away Life At Ten at the quarter pole, I didn’t feel any acceleration and I got worried," he said. "She wasn’t really there. I knew if anyone was running behind us, we were in trouble.”
No question that Rachel Alexandra had the worst of it after setting a contested pace while attempting her longest distance, but the result could give her connections pause if they are considering a date in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) against males Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro , in her first grade I start in 2010, lost for the third time in five races this season.
In a statement, Jess Jackson, co-owner of Rachel Alexandra, said: “We are disappointed in the result, as we are sure her countless fans are, but we are certainly not disappointed in her. She is still a superstar in our hearts and minds. The old sports adage applies ... on any given Sunday, anything can happen.”
Her trainer Steve Asmussen, said he and Jackson would evaluate Rachel Alexandra's condition before making a decision on where she would race next.
"We want to evaluate who we are and who she is and where she’s at. We’re just worried about her well-being,” he said somewhat cryptically.
Asmussen added: “The winner won the race and I don’t want to take anything away from that. In a five-horse field, you can’t complain about where you are. It is what it is. I thought (Rachel Alexandra) put a very good mare (Life At Ten) away. It obviously took more out of her on the front end than we would have hoped for. When she moved away from (Life At Ten) that’s what you were hoping to see. Then she got run down late.
“I’m very disappointed that she lost, but I am always very happy with Rachel. It hurts to lose and you’re disappointed for it, but if that’s the case, just think about how happy she’s made you and all the things she has done for us. She’s a tremendous mare. If she isn’t exactly where she was last year, hopefully she can get back there.”
It was 10 1/4 lengths back to Life At Ten, the 9-5 second choice whose six-race winning streak came to an end. Miss Singhsix and Classofsixtythree trailed in the five-horse field.
Persistently was coming off a two-length win at Saratoga over optional claimers at 1 1/8 miles. She had not been in a stakes race since finishing fifth in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) in 2008. She ran second in the Belmont Park's Frizette (gr. I) prior to that.
"The only time she had ever run two turns on the dirt was when she won here earlier in the meet," McGaughey said. "It’s one of those things that pays off. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But today it did. I felt like something was going to be going on up front, and I just wanted (Garcia) to let the race unfold as it did and just kind of be there if she had a chance.
“I thought that (Rachel Alexandra) might be a little vulnerable going a mile and a quarter, and I knew we’d run a mile and a quarter. Her female family runs a long way."
Overall, the winning chestnut filly improved her career record to 4-4-4 in 14 starts. The top purse of $180,000 extended her earnings to $491,256.
The second-longest shot in the field, Persistently received six pounds from Rachel Alexandra and paid $45, $8.10, and $3.60. Rachel Alexandra, assigned 122 pounds, returned $2.30 and $2.10 and rounded out a $94 exacta. Life At Ten was $2.10 to show.