08/29/2009 11:00PM

Three trainers all hoping for better trip

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Miss Isella, a two-time Grade 2 winner earlier this season, seeks her first Grade 1 victory in Sunday's Personal Ensign.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Ian Wilkes said he felt Miss Isella may not have had the best racing luck when she finished second in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap earlier in the Saratoga meet. His colleagues Marty Wolfson and Todd Pletcher thought pretty much the same about the trips their horses, Icon Project and Unbridled Belle, received when they finished second and third behind the front-running winner Swift Temper in the $1 million Delaware Handicap last month.

Wilkes, Wolfson, and Pletcher are all hoping the trip gods will be smiling their way Sunday at Saratoga when Miss Isella, Icon Project, and Unbridled Belle return against Swift Temper and four other fillies and mares in the $400,000 Personal Ensign, a Grade 1 event at 1 1/4 miles.

The weather gods could also has a say in the outcome of the Personal Ensign since heavy rain was in the forecast from Friday evening through Saturday.

Miss Isella entered the Go for Wand off a pair of Grade 2 wins at Churchill Downs, seeking her first Grade 1 victory and the first for trainer Ian Wilkes. But the combination of a sloppy track, slow start, and relatively soft pace proved just a bit too much to overcome as the 6-5 Miss Isella appeared to struggle around the final bend before rallying gamely to finish second behind Seventh Street.

"She broke a bit slow and I think handled the slop fine although at the top of the stretch she appeared to be done," said Wilkes. "Then she came back again and finished strong. She seems to want to put herself in more tractable position now and has already beaten Swift Temper three times and that filly went out and won a million-dollar race."

Miss Isella will carry high weight of 120 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Personal Ensign. Calvin Borel, who guided Miss Isella to both her Grade 2 victories this past spring, will be back aboard on Sunday after Julian Leparoux filled in for him in the Go for Wand.

Icon Project and Unbridled Belle were both victimized by the very slow pace set by Swift Temper over a speed-biased racetrack in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap. Icon Project raced near the rear of the field before swinging very wide into the stretch and easily outfinishing Unbridled Belle to be second. In her previous start, Icon Project splashed through a muddy racetrack to dominate Belmont's Grade 3 New York Stakes.

"I think she probably should have won the Delaware," said Icon Project's trainer, Wolfson. "She could have gone to the lead if she wanted to but instead the rider took her back and then nobody ran with Swift Temper. It looks like there will be more pace in there Sunday and obviously a wet track won't hurt us."

Wolfson has also secured the services of Leparoux, who will replace Jose Valvidia Jr. aboard Icon Project in the Personal Ensign.

"I'm really happy to have Julian because I think he fits this filly really well," said Wolfson.

Unbridled Belle, the only Grade 1 winner in the Personal Ensign, was expected to set or at least race with the pace in the Delaware Handicap. Instead she rated back in midpack then could not sustain the mild run she took at Swift Temper into the stretch.

"I anticipate she'll be a little closer on Sunday, although we don't want her to get into a duel and set things up for someone like Icon Project," said Pletcher.

Pletcher also entered Sea Chanter and With Flying Colors for the Personal Ensign, although Sea Chanter is expected to scratch and run Monday in the Mollie Wilmot overnight stakes.

Swift Temper benefitted from the pace scenario to register her third graded victory in the Delaware Handicap.

"She doesn't have to be on the lead, it just happened like that and worked out well for us," said trainer Dale Romans. "She's run some nice races from just off the pace and I don't think a wet track should bother her."