Forever Unbridled swung wide off the far turn and overhauled loose-on-the-lead Songbird in deep stretch of Saturday’s $700,000 Personal Ensign (G1), scoring a neck decision in the first of seven stakes on a blockbuster Travers Day program at Saratoga. Owned and bred by Charles Fipke, the 5-year-old mare is trained by Dallas Stewart and was ridden by Joel Rosario.
Forever Unbridled has now won three of her last four starts, the lone setback being a rallying third behind Beholder and Songbird in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). She’s also captured back-to-back “Win & You’re In” races for the 2017 Distaff at Del Mar, opening the year with a convincing tally in the June 17 Fleur des Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs.
“You knew (Songbird on the lead) was going to happen, you just had to go find her at the quarter-pole,” Stewart said. “I just let Rosario do his thing. I was hoping she’d get there, but you never know when you’re trying to run down a champion.”
Songbird established moderate splits in :24.14, :47.91 and 1:12.29 on a clear lead while Forever Unbridled rated in last among four rivals. Five lengths back with three-quarters of a mile remaining, Forever Unbridled launched her move midway around the far turn and accelerated into the stretch well off the rail.
“I decided to stay away from Songbird (in the stretch) because I was moving very well today, so I stayed away a little bit and let her run,” Rosario said. “She was impressive today.”
“She kept coming back on (Songbird in the stretch). It wasn’t easy, but she did it,” Stewart added. (Rosario never) hit her because she hates the whip. It’s not easy to win a race like this against a champion.”
A former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Stewart was asked what he was thinking down the stretch.
“Get there first.”
Songbird, who brilliantly captured her first 13 starts by open lengths, appears to have taken a step back at age 4, posting workmanlike victories in the Ogden Phipps (G1) and Delaware H. (G1) prior to the Personal Ensign. But her connections dismiss that notion.
“She ran alright,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said of the two-time champion and 2-5 favorite. “She got beat by a good horse and we came up a neck short.”
“Her numbers are better than last year,” jockey Mike Smith said of Songbird. “The first race back was a big number. I bet this race will be a big number, I bet you this race will be one of her best numbers, maybe she just can’t get any better…I don’t think we give her enough credit to be honest with you.”
Forever Unbridled was off as the 2-1 second choice and completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:49.16. She notched her sixth stakes victory, increasing her earnings to $2,086,880 from a 16-7-3-4 record. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled’s Song registered her first Grade 1 win in the 2016 Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn Park and captured last fall’s Beldame (G1) at Belmont Park.
Stewart said the mare will make a title defense and her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in the Beldame on September 30.
Forever Unbridled is out of 2006 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Lemons Forever, who was also campaigned by Fipke and Stewart, and the Personal Ensign winner is a full sister to Grade 1 winner Unbridled Forever.
“I don’t think there’s a stronger family out there and Mr. Fipke put it all together,” Stewart said.