08/26/2017 3:05PM

Forever Unbridled nails Songbird for neck victory in the Personal Ensign

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Barbara D. Livingston
Forever Unbridled came wide through the stretch to nail two-time champion Songbird in the final strides of Saturday's Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Turning for home in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, Joel Rosario felt he had a loaded gun underneath him in Forever Unbridled. But the target that was moving alone on the lead was the two-time Eclipse Award winner Songbird, triumphant in 13 of 14 career races.

Despite staying in the middle of the track, Forever Unbridled came powering home in the stretch and was able to nail Songbird in the final strides, handing that filly just her second career defeat, this one by a neck in the $700,000 Personal Stakes.

“I decided turning for home I was moving better than her, I just stayed away from her a little bit and she was trying to come back again,” Rosario said. “It was probably a good idea to stay where I was.”

The win was the second in as many starts this year for Forever Unbridled, a 5-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song owned and bred by Charles Fipke and trained by Dallas Stewart.

The loss was the first in three starts this year and just second in 15 career starts for Songbird, who was coming off a less-than-spectacular victory in the Delaware Handicap that had many wondering if she was the same filly as she was at age 3 when she won seven straight races before losing the Distaff by a nose to Beholder.

Mike Smith, Songbird’s rider, believes Songbird is the same, but that perhaps Forever Unbridled – who was just 1 1/4 lengths behind Songbird in last year’s Distaff – has improved.

“Maybe she didn’t just get any better from 3 to 4, she might have stayed the same,” Smith said.”Sometimes [the competition] gets better. In saying that, she’s a Grade 1 winner nine times and only got beat by a narrow margin. I don’t think we give her enough credit to be honest with you.”

The Personal Ensign went with four horses after the scratch of Flora Dora due to a temperature.

Songbird, breaking from the inside, got out to a comfortable 3 1/2-length lead through a quarter in 24.14 seconds, a half-mile in 47.91 and six furlongs in 1:12.29. Rosario had Forever Unbridled last of four, five lengths back.

At the five-sixteenths pole, Rosario had Forever Unbridled in second and coming wide into the stretch. Rosario never took out his whip as Forever Unbridled kept coming down the lane eight wide and was able to get up late.

Forever Unbridled covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.16 and returned $6.20 as the 2-1 second choice.

“When you got two good ones, they’ll find a way to fight it out,” said Stewart, who trained this mare’s full sister, Unbridled Forever, to win the Grade 1 Ballerina in 2015. “I don’t think he ever touched her with the stick; she’s not a real whip horse, she doesn’t like the whip. I don’t know why he was so wide.”

Smith actually lauded Rosario for keeping Forever Unbridled wide and contemplated whether to bring his filly several paths out to try and engage.

“I just felt I was going to have to go a long way out there to get to him, sometimes you’ll lose a neck, half-a-length doing that,” Smith said. “I wish he would have come right next to me because I think she would have picked it up and maybe held her off. In saying that, his mare ran a dynamite race. When I asked [Songbird] turning for home she accelerated. She’s not supposed to get run down and she ran me down.”

Songbird finished 4 1/2 lengths clear of Eskenformoney, who was third by 23 1/2 lengths over Going for Broke.

The Personal Ensign was a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but Forever Unbridled had already earned a fees-paid berth into that race by virtue of her victory in the Fleur de Lis on June 17 at Churchill Downs.

Stewart said he would most likely run Forever Unbridled in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park on Sept. 30 as her last start for the Distaff. Forever Unbridled won the Beldame last year.