Dependable Nest Seeks Shuvee-Personal Ensign Spa Double

Nest (outside) works in company with Wit at Saratoga Saturday | Sarah Andrew

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – By his measured standard, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher–rarely one to over-hype his horses– practically gushes when he talks about Nest (Curlin).

“She's just pure class in everything she does,” Pletcher said. “If they were all like her, it'd be a much easier game than it actually is.”

Co-owner Mike Repole, an enthusiastic promoter of his horses, talks about the 4-year-old in almost reverential terms.

“I've been blessed to have so many special, great horses, but she has a brilliance about her,” Repole said. “The last time I was blessed to have a horse like that was Uncle Mo. You think she's moving really slow. And you look at her times, and she just does it so easy. Effortlessly. Smooth. Composed. She's just a very special filly.”

Beloved by her connections and thoroughly respected by the competition, Nest returns to action Friday in the GI Personal Ensign S. Already the winner of three graded stakes at Saratoga Race Course, Nest will try to become the first runner to complete the GII Shuvee-Personal Ensign double since the Shuvee was added to the Saratoga stakes schedule in 2013. Eight previous Shuvee winners fell short.

In the Personal Ensign, named for the Ogden Phipps's undefeated champion, Nest will face a small, sterling field of graded stakes winners, Clairiere (Curlin), Secret Oath (Arrogate) Idiomatic (Curlin), and Sixtythreecaliber (Gun Runner), and Malloy (Outwork).

Nest has won eight of 12 starts and earned $2,083,050 for Repole, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House. The only time she has finished off the board was in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Distaff when she was fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths as the favorite. That blemish did not bother Eclipse Award voters. She was the landslide winner of the 3-year-old filly title with 97% of the ballots cast.

This year, Nest was sick for a while in the spring, which delayed her return to the races. In the July 23 Shuvee, her first start since the Breeders' Cup, she dealt with the challenge presented by the gifted Clairiere and scooted away early in the stretch to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

“She has a rare ability to quicken at the end of the dirt race,” Pletcher said. “You don't see a lot of horses show that display and turn of foot at the top of the stretch like we've seen her do. She's just a very, very special filly.”

With her convincing victory under Irad Ortiz, Jr., Nest answered any questions about whether it would take any time to return to top form.

“She's got this cruise control that's a high-speed cruise control,” Repole said. “When Irad asked her to go around that far turn, she just opens up five lengths in a split second.”

Nest was purchased for $350,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Sale and joined the Pletcher stable the following year.

“She's been a star since Day 1,” Pletcher said. “She broke her maiden going a mile and a sixteenth first time out. Was able to win the (GII) Demoiselle as a 2-year-old. Had a spectacular season as a 3-year-old. I think her (GI) Coaching Club American Oaks and (GI) Alabama wins were two of the most impressive races we saw at Saratoga last year. That earned her a championship and now she's come back training even better at four.”

Nest opened her 3-year-old season Feb. 12 with a six-length victory in the Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs and picked up her first Grade I victory with an 8 1/4-length triumph in the GI Ashland S. Apr. 8 at Keeneland. She was sent off as the favorite in the GI Kentucky Oaks and ended up second, beaten two lengths by Secret Oath. Five weeks later, Pletcher tried her against males in the GI Belmont S. She delivered a big performance at 1 1/2 miles and finished second, three lengths behind stablemate Mo Donegal. Her grit and resilience have become a trademark.

“Physically, she's done remarkably well,” Pletcher said. “I said that last year after she was second in the Belmont that I couldn't think of a horse that we'd run in the Belmont that came out of the race as well as she did and actually gained weight after the race. She's done that again, this year after the Shuvee. Your first concern would be that that might be a hard race on her off the long layoff. She just thrived on it and has done great since then.”

On the track and around the barn, Nest has an alert, but calm confident presence about her.

“Queen Nest,” Repole said. “She was always mature, but she came back and she knows everything she's doing and she's really special right now.”

After Nest breezed a half-mile on the main track Saturday in :48.75, Pletcher described it was as good as a horse can work.

“She's very easy to train. She's very relaxed in her gallops,” Pletcher said. “Everything comes very easily to her. If you want her to work slow, she'll do that. If you want to work fast, she can do that. She's a trainer's dream, really. She does whatever you ask her to do.”

Due to the late start of her season, Pletcher said he would entertain another race before heading to California for the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita. The GI Spinster S. at Keeneland Oct. 8 is a popular steppingstone to the Distaff.

Pletcher acknowledged the quality of the Personal Ensign field, noting that it included the major players in the division. It is another showdown at the Spa with title implications and he will saddle the filly likely to go off as the favorite.

“I never take anything for granted,” he said, “but the way she's training, I would expect another big effort from her.”

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