08/21/2008 11:00PM

Ginger Punch up at the wire


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Eclipse Award champion Ginger Punch survived a frantic stretch battle and won a head bob with a game Lemon Drop Mom to post a nose decision in Friday's $400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

"To be honest, I thought I got beat," was Ginger Punch's trainer Bobby Frankel's initial reaction at the conclusion of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. "She got the perfect bob. It was a very good race, and I'm glad we were able to come out on the right end."

Ginger Punch, a 5-year-old daughter of Awesome Again owned by Frank Stronach, had to earn every penny of her $240,000 first prize. Allowed to settle several lengths off a relatively slow pace in the 1 1/4-mile race, Ginger Punch was angled four wide by jockey Rafael Bejarano when launching her bid into the stretch, but never got in front of Lemon Drop Mom until the moment the pair hit the wire.

Lemon Drop Mom was first to show in front, then eased back slightly off Golden Velvet and Unbridled Belle near the six-furlong marker. Saving ground throughout, Lemon Drop Mom slipped inside the leaders to wrest control under jockey Jose Caraballo entering the stretch, then held on determinedly when engaged by Ginger Punch near midstretch only to drop a heartbreaking decision in the final stride.

Unbridled Belle, sent three wide to prompt the pace after the opening quarter-mile, could not match strides with the top pair through the final furlong. She finished third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Lemon Drop Mom.

Ginger Punch, who overcame an eventful trip to win the Grade 1 Go for Wand earlier in the meet, covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.37 and paid $3.30.

"Actually, I was a little worried before the race even began because I could see she was in heat in the paddock," Frankel said in the winner's circle. "She's still horsing now. She looks like she wants to get bred. She really overcame a lot to win her last two races."

Frankel said Ginger Punch could make her next start in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park Sept. 27.

* Apprentice Sebastian Morales was taken to Saratoga Hospital after he and fellow rider Rudy Rodriguez went down in a frightening spill during the afternoon's seventh race. According to track officials, Morales was initially unconscious on the track but quickly regained consciousness. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures.

Rodriguez walked back to the jockeys' room, but complained of shoulder pain. Both horses involved in the incident, Cinder Cone and Academy Royal, were uninjured.