While racing erratically through the lane, front-running Ask the Moon captured the Personal Ensign Invitational Stakes Sept. 3 for her second grade I stakes win in a row at Saratoga this summer (VIDEO).
Ask the Moon, sent off as the 19-10 favorite in the field of six older fillies and mares, drifted out badly at mid-stretch of the 1 1/4-mile test and nearly lost the lead. But under right-handed ruing from Javier Castellano, the 6-year-old Malibu Moon mare corrected herself and finished up well in the final sixteenth of a mile to handily defeat Pachattack and Tiz Miz Sue by 2 3/4 lengths. She completed the 10 furlongs in a slow 2:04.21 over a fast track.
The Personal Ensign was the first of three consecutive grade I races on the first card of the final weekend of the Saratoga meet. It was rescheduled from Aug. 28 when the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Irene forced a cancellation of racing.
Ask the Moon, trained by Marty Wolfson for Farnsworth Stables, was claimed for $75,000 at Belmont Park June 15. She won the 1 1/8-mile Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at odds of 18-1 at Saratoga July 31. Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGinnes and Country Life Farm bred Ask the Moon in Maryland.
Out of the Valid Appeal mare Always Asking, some felt the extra furlong would be too much for Ask the Moon to repeat her front-running effort in the Ruffian, which she won by 5 3/4 lengths.
But Ask the Moon outfought Acronym for the early lead and cleared the small field on the opening turn to show the way through quarter-mile fractions of :23.43, :47.37, and 1:11.59.
Leaving the final turn after reaching the quarter-pole in 1:36.93, Ask the Moon was in firm control over Pachattack, racing at the rail, and the rallying Tiz Miz Sue. She began to drift out, appearing a little leg weary, near the eighth pole as Pachattack threatened. But she quickly regained command, straightening out late with encouragement from Castellano.
"People said that maybe she got lucky last time. They let her go on the lead and stole the race," Castellano said. "I don’t think so. She improved a lot, she’s a nice filly, she’s won two grade Is, and I’m glad to get on the filly.
“She’s a very fast filly, and I think the key is not fighting too much with her. She ducked out a little bit because she was getting tired, and I tried to push her a little hard and squeeze her a little bit, and she responded.”
Pachattack, a graded stakes winner on grass making her first start on dirt, edged Tiz Miz Sue by a head in the final strides for second.
“I was within arms reach of Ask the Moon," said jockey Rajiv Maragh of the the runner-up. "I felt that once my horse kicked in I was really in striking distance of Ask the Moon. [Pachattack] trained well on the dirt, so we were thinking that she would definitely handle it and it would have been a surprise to us all if she hadn’t.”
Previously trained by Edward Allard, Ask the Moon had raced once since being claimed -- finishing third in the Sky Beauty Stakes at Belmont -- before arriving at Saratoga. She is now two-for-two at the track, ending a 12-race losing streak with the Ruffian victory. The bay mare's career mark stands at 10-5-7 in 32 starts with earnings of $713,640.
"She obviously loves this track," said Heather Irion, assistant to Wolfson. "She’s been amazing. We never dreamed she would do this when we claimed her. Marty loved her. He told me when he sent her over, ‘This filly is really special to me.’ But I think she has blown us away with two grade 1 wins right off the bat. She’s just a dream. She does it all on her own.”
In winning the Ruffian, Ask the Moon had already earned a starting berth in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in November as part of "Win and You're In" challenge series.
She carried top weight of 120 pounds and paid $5.90, $3.30, and $2.50. Pachattack returned $3.80 and $3.10 as the second choice, creating a $19 exacta. Tiz Miz Sue, ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., paid $35.0 to show.
Protesting finished fourth, followed by Super Espresso and Acronym.