Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens posted another of his legendary upsets at Saratoga Race Course when his unheralded allowance runner Passing Shot tagged multiple graded stakes winner Wild Spirit by a short nose at the wire of the $400,000 Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) Friday.
Jerkens, who teamed with Passing Shot's owner, Joseph V. Shields Jr., to win the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) as Puzzlement defeated favorite Volponi less than a week ago, pulled off an even bigger upset in the Personal Ensign. The surprise win denied Wild Spirit's trainer, Bobby Frankel, his 19th grade I victory in 2003.
Passing Shot, ridden by Jose Santos at 114 pounds, received eight pounds from the 1-5 favorite Wild Spirit, winning the 1 1/4-test for fillies and mares in 2:03.33. Miss Linda, who led to the top of the stretch, was a distant third-place finisher.
The 4-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy rallied in mid-stretch when it appeared that Wild Spirit and jockey Jerry Bailey were going to roll to an easy victory after a ground-saving trip.
Wild Spirit, a group I winner in her native Chile, was made the prohibitive favorite on the strength of two convincing wins in her only two United States starts. She won the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) by 3 1/2 lengths at Belmont May 17 and the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) by six lengths July 20. Off those two wins, she is regarded as one the top contenders in the older filly and mare handicap division.
Breaking from the inside post in the five-horse field, Wild Spirit got away from the gate in good order but was caught along the rail while racing in tandem with Golden Sonata behind the pacesetter Miss Linda, ridden by Richard Miglore, and Passing Shot on Miss Linda's outside.
Miss Linda set deliberate fractions of :24 4/5, :49 3/5 and 1:14 1/5 while maintaining a one-length advantage over Passing Shot. At the top of the stretch, Miss Linda began to slow and Wild Spirit, crying out for room on the inside, shot through at the rail. She appeared to be on her way to an easy victory, but seemed to shorten her stride a bit when whipped right handed by Bailey a couple of times. That gave Passing Shot an opportunity and she continued to cut into the lead all the way to the wire, getting up in the final stride.
"It's always nice to run in a small field with a big purse," Jerkens said. "If you get the other horses on their poor day and you're on your good day, you'll win. But you can't catch 10 horses on a poor day.
"I was kicking myself because I wanted Jose (Santos) to ride her, but I knew he couldn't do the weight (Santos was three pounds over). The old-timers would never take any overweight, but Jose ran her so good, I figured I just better go and take the shot. It's always nice when it happens to you, because when it goes the other way, you wonder what the hell you are doing wrong."
Santos sadi he was concerned when he saw Bailey and Wild Spirit squirt free at the top of the lane.
"I hit my filly right-handed and then left and then right and she found another gear," Santos said of the stretch run. "It was a great effort from her. I love riding for `The Giant Killer,' especially in stakes races. You've always got a chance to knock off the favorite."
Bailey offered no excuse.
"I had the best trip of anyone, but my horse also carried a lot more weight than anyone (122 pounds)."
Sent off at 11-1, Passing Shot came into the race with back-to-back allowance wins, including one at Saratoga at nine furlongs July 30. This was by far her biggest victory. Her only previous graded stakes experience came in a ninth-place showing in the Sands Point (gr. IIIT) at Belmont in June 2002. The $240,000 winner's share more than doubled her career earnings to $415,397. She has five career wins in 17 starts.
"We wanted to get her stakes-placed," Jerkens said. "She's been working harder and doing much better than she ever has been in her life. Once in awhile, you get a horse that thrives on work, and it seems that she has. I was hoping we would be second. She just ran right at (Wild Spirit) at the end. It was amazing, really amazing. Earlier in her life, she had little ankle problems and we couldn't train her too much. Sometimes horses develop when they get older and you get lucky when it happens to you."
Jerkens said he would like to run Passing Shot in the $300,000 Ruffian at Belmont Sept. 13.
The Kentucky homebred is out of the Relaunch mare Aucilla.
Passing Shot paid $24.60, $2.90 and $2.10. Wild Spirit returned $2.10 and $2.10, and Miss Linda also paid $2.10. The $2 exacta was worth $43.60.
Summer Colony, last year's Personal Ensign 'Cap winner, and Golden Sonata trailed.