LAS VEGAS, NV — Every show in New York has a Saturday matinée. The star is there, just like when the curtain rises at 8 p.m. But sometimes the supporting players are different.
Which brings us to this weekend at Saratoga. It may have the trappings of summer stock, but it is still New York. This is racing’s Broadway, and right now Midnight Bisou is about as big a name as this stage can get.
She is back for an encore to what might have been the 2019 race of the year. She was the heroine who survived the chase scene and got rave reviews in the Personal Ensign (G1). It was part of a seven-race tour de force, a winning streak that thrust her into the touring company that performed in the Breeders’ Cup on the West Coast.
As it was last year, the Personal Ensign is an audition for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). The winner is automatically entitled to a part, and Midnight Bisou is the 2-5 morning-line favorite to earn it again.
This revival at Saratoga is one of two qualifiers this weekend for the Distaff; the other is Sunday’s Clement L. Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar. There are also win-and-your-ins Saturday in two other Breeders’ Cup divisions – the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga for the Classic (G1) and the Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar for the Sprint (G1).
The question for this year’s production of the Personal Ensign is who will play Elate? Remember her? In the role of an odds-on favorite because of the 1 1/8-mile distance, she tried to upstage Midnight Bisou. But she lost their nose-to-nose fight to the finish. That line in the script never changed. Midnight Bisou beat Elate all three times they met last year, and Elate left the stage as a two-time Personal Ensign runner-up before making the transition to producer – to broodmare.
Really, though, the Personal Ensign overshadowed their appearances in the Breeders’ Cup. Despite a career-best 106 Brisnet Speed Rating, Midnight Bisou was upset by Blue Prize in the Distaff, and Elate tried to dance with the boys only to finish fourth in the Classic. Still, the Personal Ensign was the signature moment that led Midnight Bisou to win her version of a Tony – the Eclipse Award as the best older dirt female of 2019.
“Anytime you run in those type of races, they’re big regardless of what you’ve done in the past,” Midnight Bisou’s lead owner Jeff Bloom told the New York Racing Association this week. “She’s training better than ever, and we’re ready for it.”
Now 5 years old, Midnight Bisou might try to follow Elate’s example. She could carry Bloom’s ambition into the Classic in November at Keeneland. As big a star as she is, Bloom and trainer Steve Asmussen can call that shot, and the producers – the Breeders’ Cup “panel of experts” – will not turn her down.
While there are no domestic futures yet for the Breeders’ Cup, bookmakers in England have made Midnight Bisou a 20-1 shot to win the Classic, according to Oddschecker.com. Her 8 1/4-length victory five weeks ago in the Fleur de Lis (G2) emboldened oddsmakers. It also emboldened her connections, who had already cast her into male company Feb. 29. That was when she gave Maximum Security all he could handle before finishing second to him in the $20 million Saudi Cup.
Midnight Bisou is also the 4-1 futures favorite to win the Distaff. The challenge for horseplayers who want to back her in both markets is that futures bets are immediate action. One of those tickets is guaranteed to be a loser simply because Midnight Bisou will not be in both races.
That also means that the automatic berth into the Distaff could go unclaimed from the Personal Ensign. That is if the plot plays out the same way, and Midnight Bisou wins again. But she will have to do it with an understudy. Because of pandemic rules her regular jockey Mike Smith will not be with her. Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride her for the first time in a race.
Instead of Elate, the Saratoga stage will be shared Saturday by the likes of three-time Grade 1 runner-up Point Of Honor (5-2), probably the second betting choice in the Personal Ensign and a 25-1 shot in the overseas Distaff futures.
If Midnight Bisou takes the obligatory curtain call with a victory Saturday, her performance will undoubtedly be compared with the Whitney, which is on the same 1 1/8 miles of Saratoga’s new dirt track. Five males will be competing in that race for a role in the Classic.
Looking healthier than ever at age 7, Tom’s d’Etat (6-5) brings in a four-race winning streak that included his own first-place finish the same day as Midnight Bisou’s in the Fleur de Lis. His 112 Brisnet Speed rating that day compared with Midnight Bisou’s 103 over the same 9 furlongs at Churchill Downs, and it helped shorten his odds to win the Classic to 11-1. By comparison Maximum Security is the 5-1 favorite, holding steady after his too-close-for-comfort victory last week in the San Diego Handicap (G2).
Also bidding to be better than just supporting players, Grade 1 winners Code Of Honor (5-2) and Improbable (5-2) are also in the Whitney as is Stephen Foster (G2) victor By My Standards (9-2). They are also prominent in the Classic futures; Code Of Honor is 16-1, Improbable 25-1 and By My Standards 33-1.
More comparisons to the Personal Ensign will come from the Sunday matinée in California. That is where another 5-year-old, Ollie’s Candy, tries to deliver a winning encore of her own in the 8 1/2-furlong Clement Hirsch. Even though she has not won since taking this race last summer, she is still 20-1 in the Distaff futures. That might be the long-term price for Ce Ce, Fighting Mad or Hard Not To Love if one of them wins.
The tryout for the Sprint in the Bing Crosby features Collusion Illusion, 2-for-2 at six furlongs and 2-for-2 at Del Mark, and Fashionably Fast, the winner of six in a row before finishing second nearly two months ago in the Triple Bend (G2). That was to McKinzie, who was entered for this race only to be scratched by Bob Baffert and re-aimed for a bigger stage in a month. None of the nine horses left in the Bing is in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint futures. Yet.
Even though some have small casts, all this weekend’s shows carry on a Grade 1 tradition. That they could produce Breeders’ Cup winners is only appropriate. That they could produce such winners in divisions outside their genres seems appropriate in this strange year.
But hey, it was not so long ago when we found out Lady Gaga can act, right?