Personal Ensign in the winner's circle for the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff

Personal Ensign in the winner's circle for the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff

Breeders' Cup LTD

BH 100: Three Generations of BC Winners

Phipps fillies are three of a kind

This feature originally appeared in the October 29, 2016 issue of BloodHorse.

As the 33rd running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships draws ever nearer, this month’s BloodHorse 100 focuses on a singular accomplishment that played out across two centuries, three decades, and three generations. And because it involves the storied breeding and racing program of the Phipps family, its roots go much deeper—almost 100 years deeper—into the history of Thoroughbred racing in America.

In the early 1920s Mrs. H.C. Phipps, the matriarch of the clan, first involved herself in racing and established a stable with yearlings purchased out of the Saratoga sale or privately from the already well-established breeding program of the Whitney family for her fledgling Wheatley Stable. 

The first mention of Mrs. Phipps and Wheatley Stable in The Blood-Horse appeared in the June 27, 1931, issue. A brief item on page 961 reports the purchase of eight yearlings from C.V. Whitney: “The yearlings are to remain at the C.V. Whitney Farm in Lexington until trainer James Fitzsimmons is ready for them, when they will be sent to Belmont Park.” The article closes with a line that would become a trademark for Phipps horses through the subsequent decades: “The yearlings are good-looking individuals.”

Not only were they good-looking but several of them could run. The bay colt named Balios (Chicle—Rowes Bud, by Broomstick) won the Babylon Handicap and Tremont Stakes as a juvenile, following up with the Empire City Derby at 3. 

The bay filly by Chicle—Flyleaf, by Broomstick, was named Notebook, and won the important Selima Stakes for juvenile fillies in 1932. Retired to Wheatley’s broodmare band, Notebook produced for Wheatley the gray Mahmoud filly Keynote who won the Astarita Stakes by three lengths over Quarantaine, who raced for Mrs. Phipps son, Ogden Phipps, who had just that year established his own stable. At the close of her racing career, Keynote, too, became a Wheatley mare. 

Thus began a pattern that exemplifies what would in time become the standard for the breed-to-race philosophy of the family’s breeding program as homebred after homebred rolled from the Phipps nursery. 

As Ogden Phipps had established his own stable so did his son Ogden Mills Phipps, and it is with them and their connection with racing at its highest level that brought about a historic Breeders’ Cup moment unlikely ever to be replicated.

By 1988 the Phipps family had been in the business for some six decades, relying on horses they raced and retired.

In the early 1970s, however, Ogden Phipps infused a new bloodline into his program with the purchase of the outstanding Argentinian racemare Dorine, a daughter of a leading South American sire, Aristophanes. Blending the new blood with old established bloodlines, he bred Dorine’s daughter Grecian Banner to Private Account, a fifth-generation Ogden Phipps homebred. The result was the bay filly Personal Ensign, who was entering the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) undefeated. 

Editor-in-chief at the time Edward L. Bowen, in his “What’s Going On Here” column regarding contending races from BC for The Blood-Horse Race of the Year, gives his reaction to Personal Ensign’s never-say-die determination in winning over Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victor Winning Colors. “There was, of course, that traumatic, dramatic, climactic stretch run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Personal Ensign turned for home with history in front of her, but what became more relevant, she had the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks-CCA Oaks (both gr. I) winners in front of her too. A burst of speed and determination which brought tears to the eyes of beholders was required to put the finishing touch on an unbeaten career.”

BloodHorse readers did vote the Distaff the Race of the Year for 1988, and Bowen further commented on the event’s significance in the Feb. 11, 1989, issue: “It was a three-filly finish that left its witnesses uplifted and drained at the same time, a moment that leapt fully grown into history.”

Personal Ensign’s Distaff was the first in a Breeders’ Cup for the Phipps family. More would follow (six to date).

Following the Phipps tradition, Personal Ensign became a prized broodmare. Her first foal, Miner’s Mark, was a grade I winner; her second, Our Emblem, was grade I-placed and sired a Kentucky Derby winner in War Emblem. Her fourth foal, by fourth-generation Phipps homebred Easy Goer, was the chestnut filly My Flag, who had her own Breeders’ Cup moment in 1995.

While Personal Ensign had gone into her Breeders’ Cup moment undefeated, daughter My Flag had only a maiden win in five starts to show for her efforts although she had placed in a pair of grade I races at Belmont Park, the site of the 1995 Breeders’ Cup. 

In her report of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) in the Nov. 4, 1995, issue, Deirdre B. Biles linked My Flag’s victory to the past: “…her half-length victory looked like a triumph of nature—the flash of brilliance produced from the explosion of a genetic Molotov cocktail. Her chestnut coat spattered with the goo of a wet Belmont Park racing strip, brought back memories of her sire…The power of her closing strides, meanwhile were reminiscent of her undefeated dam…”

Seven years later the race remained the same, but the movable feast that is the Breeders’ Cup had journeyed to Arlington Park in Chicago. Also back were the Phippses. Representing the black and cherry-silk interests was Ogden Mills Phipps, whose father had died earlier in the year. Sporting the hopes of those silks was Storm Flag Flying, a Storm Cat filly and the second foal of My Flag.

A photo in the Nov. 2, 2002, issue of The Blood-Horse, art for the article that relates Storm Flag Flying’s half-length score over the off-track surface at Arlington, which echoed that of her dam at Belmont, shows Ogden Phipps III leading Storm Flag Flying into the winner’s circle. In a tribute to his grandfather, the young Phipps summed up the historical magnitude of the occasion (both equine and human): “He (Ogden Phipps) allowed all of us to get in the sport. This is the ultimate, three generations in the Breeders’ Cup. He has given us a fabulous gift.” 

Read more BloodHorse 100 features here.