08/26/2012 7:15PM

Saratoga: Love and Pride outperforms two major stars in Personal Ensign

Tom Keyser
Love and Pride, racing without blinkers under John Velazquez, scores a 10-1 upset over 3-5 favorite Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.-   It’s rarely called a surprise when a Todd Pletcher trained horse wins any stakes,  let alone  an important race like the $600,000 Personal Ensign. But that was the case Sunday at Saratoga after Love and Pride outlasted the 2011 champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta and unlucky It’s Tricky to upset the Personal Ensign for her first Grade 1 win.  

Sent off at odds of 10-1, perhaps an underlay in the minds of many handicappers, Love and Pride benefitted from a well-judged ride by John Velazquez and the misfortune of It’s Tricky at the break to register a half-length decision over the 3-5 Royal Delta. It’s Tricky turned in a tremendous effort after stumbling badly leaving the gate before succumbing grudgingly in late stretch to finish another length farther back in third.

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Pletcher took the blinkers off Love and Pride for the Personal Ensign, a decision which may have helped Velazquez to rate her just off the pace of Brushed by a Star for the opening six furlongs of the 1 1/8-mile race. Love and Pride gained a brief advantage approaching the quarter pole when Brushed by a Star drifted out and retreated but was quickly joined to her inside by It’s Tricky. Love and Pride was able to withstand the challenge, edged clear despite switching back to her left lead near midstretch, and  then withstood Royal Delta  under a vigorous hand ride by Velazquez, who did not go to the stick at all through the stretch.

Royal Delta raced in perfect striking position behind the early leaders but appeared to lose momentum when drifting four or five wide entering the stretch. The 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner dropped back to fourth position upon settling into the stretch but showed her class, fought on bravely, y and was gradually getting to the winner at the end.

It’s Tricky went to her nose immediately after the break, recovered to race well-placed under patient handling by jockey Eddie Castro, found ample room along the rail to join for command approaching the stretch before, and gave way  grudgingly from the effort through the final furlong.

Love and Pride, a 4-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy owned by Green Hills Farm Inc., completed the distance in 1:49.22  and paid $22..

“It’s nice to sometimes just come into a race and not have to sweat it out too much,” said Pletcher when asked what it’s like to fly under the radar with a horse in a major stakes. “If you get a result like this it’s a home run and if not, no one’s throwing rocks at you on the way out. ”

Pletcher explained the decision to remove the blinkers for the Personal Ensign.

“She’s a tricky filly to ride. She doesn’t like to be touched with the whip, and it was after a quick conversation with my assistant Michael Dilger in Delaware that we figured we had nothing to lose by taking the blinkers off to just try to get her to turn off a little bit.” said Pletcher. “She switched back to her left lead the first time Johnny showed her the stick so he just had to hand -ride her aggressively the rest of the way.”

Trainer Bill Mott said Royal Delta was just not at her best on Sunday.

“My filly ran a good race, a credible race, but not her best race,” said Mott. “Obviously Love and Pride was the best horse today.”

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said It’s Tricky appeared to come away unscathed from the incident leaving the gate.

“Just unlucky.  She stumbled very badly. The jockey was lucky to stay on,” said McLaughlin. “She got up and ran her heart out. It’s very unfortunate. I’m really proud of her. I feel like we were the best today had we broke well, but congratulations to the winner.”