Showdown at the Spa as Personal Ensign Heads Friday's Graded Action

Champion Nest was ultra-impressive in the Shuvee,
her first start of the year | Sarah Andrew

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A compelling Grade I race with year-end title implications and it's not even a Saturday? Such is the magic of Saratoga.

Friday's $500,000 GI Personal Ensign S. at nine furlongs has attracted older mare division leaders Nest (Curlin) and Clairiere (Curlin). Both are multiple Grade I winners with stellar records; the two will meet for the third time.

Nest, last year's Eclipse champion 3-year-old filly, is the 4-5 choice after besting Clairiere in a bang-up GII Shuvee S. July 23 over track and trip. It was her first start of the season after ending last year with a fourth as the favorite behind Clairiere's third in the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland. Nest is undefeated in three tries at Saratoga, including last year's GI Alabama S. and GI CCA Oaks. She was featured earlier this week in TDN.

“She had a spectacular season as a 3-year-old and I think her Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama wins were two of the most impressive races we saw at Saratoga last year. It earned her a championship and she's come back and is training even better at four,” said Nest's Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.

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

Clairiere, second choice at 5-2, is no slouch either. She finished behind Nest in the Shuvee after a less-than-ideal trip and was also second in her first start of the year–Oaklawn's Mar. 11 GII Azeri S. behind fellow Personal Ensign entrant Secret Oath (Arrogate)–but in between she captured the GI Apple Blossom H. at Oaklawn and the GI Ogden Phipps S. at Belmont. She's a four-time Grade I winner who has age and experience on her side, not to mention seven triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.

“I'm very happy with how she's training,” said fellow Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. “Obviously, Nest is a very tall order. We'll see how we do, but we couldn't be happier with Clairiere going in. She's a four-time Grade I winner of $3 million. She's covered plenty of ground.”

Clairiere's dam, Cavorting (Bernardini), won the 2016 edition of the Personal Ensign.

GI Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath has beaten both of the top contenders and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is never shy about putting her in tough spots, including tries against the boys last year, where she finished third in the GI Arkansas Derby and fourth in the GI Preakness S. When she's on her game, she is very, very good. Secret Oath skipped the Shuvee to await the Personal Ensign.

Brad Cox's Juddmonte homebred Idiomatic (Curlin), on a two-race win streak that covers the GII Delaware H. and GIII Shawnee S.; Tom Amoss trainee and GSW Sixtythreecaliber (Gun Runner), an optional allowance winner July 19 over this surface; and Wayne Catalano's last-out Hawthorne allowance winner Malloy (Outwork) complete the field.

Show Me the Money at Charles Town

Night owls are in for a treat as Charles Town hosts two rich late-night graded races Friday. The $1-million GII Charles Town Classic, won the last two years by the late Art Collector (Bernardini), attracts a field ages three and up going nine furlongs. Among the top choices are Giant Game (Giant's Causeway), winner two back of the GIII Cornhusker H. at Prairie Meadows over the re-opposing MGSW Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator) and Call Me Fast (Dialed In). A Dale Romans trainee, Giant Game was fifth behind White Abarrio (Race Day)'s monster effort in the GI Whitney S. Aug. 5. This spring's GI Carter H. winner Doppelganger (Into Mischief) and West Virginia-bred Muad'dib (Fiber Sonde), second to Art Collector in last year's Classic, are among the others looking to make some noise.

Also on tap at Charles Town Friday night is the GIII Charles Town Oaks offering a $750,000 purse for sprinting sophomore fillies going seven furlongs. All eyes will be on Hoosier Philly (Into Mischief), the Tom Amoss trainee who captured the GII Golden Rod S. in her third straight last year but faltered since in disappointing efforts. In her last out June 17, she appeared to be getting back on track in the Monomoy Girl S. at Ellis Park, which she captured over subsequent GI CCA Oaks winner Wet Paint (Blame).

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