Two years ago, as the Breeders’ Cup celebrated its 25th anniversary, fans were asked to list the greatest moments in the history of the event. The daylight winner was Personal Ensign’s dramatic nose victory over Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors in the Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5, 1988.
Personal Ensign, splashing through the slop, somehow managed to run down her field and retire unbeaten because of that remarkable effort, delighting her owner/breeder, Ogden Phipps, and her trainer, Shug McGaughey. Twenty-two years to the day later, McGaughey will seek to win another Distaff, now called the Ladies’ Classic, with another Phipps family homebred, Persistently, at, where else, Churchill Downs.
Persistently has no perfect record to protect. She has won four of her 15 lifetime starts, and was most recently defeated in the Oct. 2 Beldame (gr. I) by two of her Ladies’ Classic foes, Life At Ten and Unrivaled Belle. In what figures to be a competitive heat to close the first day of Breeders’ Cup action, Persistently is likely to go off at double-digit odds in her second crack at a Breeders’ Cup race, and just might be one of the overlooked horses that light up the tote board each year at the World Championships.
Certainly, McGaughey is not one to be ignored. He will be seeking his 10th Breeders’ Cup win and fourth in the Distaff/Ladies’ Classic, following Personal Ensign, Inside Information, and Pleasant Home. The Phipps family has seen its black and cherry colors in the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle on seven occasions as owners and breeders.
Persistently is known mostly for having knocked off Rachel Alexandra in deep stretch of the Personal Ensign (gr. I) in August at Saratoga. She had been stuck in allowance and optional claiming company for eight races between the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Personal Ensign, but the 4-year-old by Smoke Glacken, out of the Deputy Minister mare Just Reward, has gotten good at the right time.
She finished fifth behind Stardom Bound in the Juvenile Fillies, and has been an off-the-pace runner throughout her career, which might well aid her in the Ladies’ Classic, which should see a lively early tempo.
"If you look at her three races around two turns, they’re pretty good," noted McGaughey. "Stardom Bound didn’t beat her by far in the Breeders’ Cup, and Persistently wasn’t doing all that well out in California. She didn’t work well there and still made a good run around the turn. She didn’t run two turns again until this summer at Saratoga. I ran her in an allowance there and she ran very well (winning by two lengths), and obviously when she ran back against Rachel Alexandra it was a good race."
In addition to his three wins in this race, McGaughey has some solid placings. Versailles Treaty ran second to Dance Smartly in 1991 and again to Paseana the following year. Heavenly Prize came within a neck of a loose One Dreamer in 1994. Obviously, the man knows what he’s doing.
"I’ve always thought Persistently would like the track at Churchill Downs because she’s a big filly who runs over the racetrack and not down in it. She’s doing very well right now and came out of the Beldame fine. That race didn’t set up for her at all, and she’ll be better around two turns. We’re going to get more pace in the Ladies’ Classic, and if we get some weather, that would help us even more.
"We’ve had nice fillies running in this race—good horses running well at this time of the year, and we have some good memories of this race at this track."
Although the 3-year-old fillies Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are going to get much of the attention in the Ladies’ Classic, it should surprise no one if Persistently lives up to her name for her connections, who have, through the years, achieved excellence at these levels.