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Icon Project
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How Good is Icon Project?

Looking at Icon Project’s last three starts, her only races on dirt in an 11-race career, one can only wonder just how special this 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker  is.


Based on her first start on dirt, a 13 1/4-length romp in the off-the-turf New York Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO), and her last, a 13 1/2-length drubbing of Swift Temper in the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO), it seems inconceivable that she could be beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Swift Temper, while never threatening, in between in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO). Then when Swift Temper came back to win the grade I Ruffian Handicap 13 days after the Personal Ensign, it made one draw a line through Icon Project’s Delaware Handicap defeat.


Trainer Marty Wolfson feels she would have won the Delaware Handicap, the only one of her three dirt races run on a fast track, had she been given a stalking trip, which she had in the Personal Ensign.


Icon Project, who will skip the Beldame (gr. I) and run in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) a week later, began her career in England with Brian Meehan, where her best effort was a fourth in the group II Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot.


“As a young horse in England, Brian always felt the filly would develop later on,” owner Andrew Rosen said. “He always told me, ‘You have a grade I horse, but you have to be very patient with her and let her develop.’ He said she’d be grade I material in America.


“I send young horses to England and train there with Brian, who I met when Peter Minikes and I bought Buy the Sport from him in 2003. The plan is to bring them back here late in their 2-year-old year or early 3. I always felt there would be a time when Icon Project, with her pedigree, would run on dirt.”


In her first three starts in the U.S., all on grass, Icon Project won an allowance race at Calder and was third in the La Prevoyante Stakes (gr. IIT).


“Marty always said, ‘Don’t be afraid if we ever get rained off the turf because she’ll love the dirt,’” Rosen said. “I’m glad we got that opportunity (in the June 20 New York Stakes).”


Icon Project made the most of her opportunity by crushing her opponents over a muddy track, including runner-up Criticism, who had beaten her in the La Prevoyante at Calder before winning the Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. IIT).


After her second in the Delaware Handicap, she got her revenge on Swift Temper by annihilating her as well over a “good” track in the Personal Ensign, covering the 1 1/4 miles in a solid 2:02 1/5.


Rosen said on Tuesday they had been discussing the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) on Keeneland’s Polytrack as an alternative, but were leaning toward the Beldame. That changed on Wednesday. They ruled out the Oct. 10 Lady’s Secret, feeling they want no part of Zenyatta at this time.


“We’d have to come back to Florida after the race, so it didn’t make much sense going to California and then back to Florida and then back to California,” Rosen said. “Marty likes to keep things close to home. And she’s already been back and forth to Belmont, Delaware, and Saratoga.”


Rosen’s father, the late Carl Rosen, owned champion 3-year-old filly Chris Evert, and Andrew’s first major exposure into the sport came with Chief’s Crown, who won the first Breeders’ Cup race ever run in 1984, defeating future classic winners Tank’s Prospect and Spend a Buck in the Juvenile.


“No question I was sort of spoiled,” Rosen said. “After my father passed away, the first horse I got involved with was Chief’s Crown, so I learned the business from a very unusual end. The first Breeders’ Cup was a great event, but it was new and didn’t have the history it does now. It would be twice as much fun to win a second Breeders’ Cup race. In my only other start, I finished fifth in the 1998 Distaff with Classic Crown, a granddaughter of Chris Evert.


“I was lucky enough to learn the business from my dad, but he also showed me the other side of business, that it takes a long time to get a good horse. I was always very passionate about all aspects of the industry, and I felt one day I’d be lucky enough to wind up with a top horse again.”


As for Icon Project, Rosen said, “The hopes and dreams of the future are with her.”