Personal Ensign stayed undefeated in 13 starts during her historic career for Ogden Phipps. Her resume included eight Grade 1 victories including wins against males. Personal Ensign's stellar career didn't end when she was retired from the track as she was voted Kentucky's Broodmare of the Year in 1996.
There’s an old saying which proclaims, you can’t win ’em all.
Personal Ensign did.
The daughter of Private Account raced 13 times in her illustrious career and each time she crossed the finish line first.
It was a storybook career, filled with an abundance of fabulous moments, though none greater than her final start. Seemingly beaten at the top of the stretch, she launched a furious late rally and got up by a nose in the final stride to defeat no less of a filly than one who had captured the Kentucky Derby.
She was indeed perfect.
PERSONAL ENSIGN (outside) AND WINNING COLORS
BATTLE IN BREEDERS' CUP DISTAFF
Photo courtesy Horsephotos.com
Owned and bred by Ogden Phipps and trained by Shug McGaughey, Personal Ensign began her racing career on Sept. 28, 1986 at Belmont Park and immediately ran to her impressive pedigree. A full sister to multiple-Grade 1 winner Personal Flag out of the mare Grecian Banner, she was bet down to a 4-5 favorite and romped to a 12 ¾-length victory on a muddy track – in an omen of things to come two years later.
She then had to work considerably harder in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes, but still managed to win by a head. She loomed a logical favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies until a fractured pastern bone ended her 2-year-old season prematurely and erased any hope of her capturing the 2-year-old filly championship that eventually went to Brave Raj.
It took nearly 11 months for her to return to the races, but she staged a successful comeback in a Sept. 6, 1987 allowance race at Belmont and was victorious by 7 ¾ lengths in another allowance test 18 days later.
With his filly back in top form, McGaughey used a victory in the Grade 2 Rare Perfume to put Personal Ensign on edge for the Grade 1 Beldame, which was just eight days away. The Beldame was Personal Ensign’s first major test against older fillies and mares and it marked the only time in her career that she was not favored in the betting. Sent off as the $1.30-to-1 second choice, she handled her elders as well as she did her classmates, winning by 2 ¼ lengths.
The Beldame served as Personal Ensign’s final start at three and when she resumed her career in 1988, she was better than ever.
PERSONAL ENSIGN IN THE HEMPSTEAD HANDICAP
Photo courtesy Horsephotos.com
She opened the year with wins in the Grade 1 Shuvee and Hempstead by a combined 8 ¾ lengths. After toying with her rivals in the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth and winning by eight lengths, McGaughey upped the ante and entered Personal Ensign against males in the prestigious Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. Only two of them turned out to her face her, but they were hardly slouches. One was Gulch, who was a two-time winner of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, the other King’s Swan, who would win 31 starts in a 107-race career. But in the end, both of them met the same fate as all of the other fillies and mares who tried to run with her. On a sloppy track, Personal Ensign won by 1 ¾ lengths over Gulch with King’s Swan another 17 lengths back in third.
She was now the undisputed Queen of the sport.
The winning streak continued to grow as she beat 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Maskette and then served up an encore triumph in the Beldame, setting the stage for her greatest challenge in her final race.
The Breeders’ Cup start that eluded Personal Ensign at two, came at four when she was the 1-2 favorite in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies’ Classic). On a cold, gray, rainy day at Churchill Downs, the final chapter of Personal Ensign’s glorious career matched her against Winning Colors and Goodbye Halo, who had won both the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks earlier in the year.
And for much of the race, with her bid to become the first undefeated American champion in 80 years on the line, it seemed as if start No. 13 would be unlucky for her. Back at the track where she enjoyed Triple Crown success, Winning Colors ran with gusto. She quickly sprinted clear and led by nearly three lengths on the backstretch.
Midway on the final turn, Winning Colors was still cruising along on a clear lead while Personal Ensign was about eight lengths behind when she began a rally that seemed destined to finally come up short.
"When we went to Louisville for the Breeders' Cup, I thought, 'She's beat all these things, there's no reason she shouldn't be OK again,'" McGaughey said in a 2010 Daily Racing Form story. "She ran the race of her life that day. The one thing I remember was at the three-eighths pole, I thought it was all over."
Winning Colors was still motoring on the lead at the top of stretch when Personal Ensign kicked into a gear that only the rarest of horses possess. Swung outside by jockey Randy Romero, Personal Ensign began to chew into Winning Colors’ lead. Four lengths behind her rival at the eighth pole, Personal Ensign reached the flank of the leader at the sixteenth pole.
The race then came down to a test of wills and determination in those final 100 yards with the undefeated mare and the Kentucky Derby-winning filly waging a furious battle. Winning Colors was resolute on the inside, but Personal Ensign was not be denied in the final strides as she heroically stuck her nose in front at the wire to record one of the sport’s most memorable moments.
PERSONAL ENSIGN NOSES OUT WINNING COLORS ON THE WIRE
Photo courtesy Horsephotos.com
"She usually started making her move around the half-mile pole and started gathering up horses in a hurry, but she didn't do that that day," McGaughey told Daily Racing form. "She just kind of trudged along down the middle of the track. But finally she got there. Really, I thought she'd won easier than she did, but going down to the winner's circle, I looked up at the TV and saw she'd won by that short of a margin. I was pretty relieved, tell you the truth."
While she left the racetrack an undefeated runner and 1988’s champion older filly and mare, Personal Ensign’s success story carried over to the breeding shed as well.
Her first foal, Miner’s Mark, became a Grade 1 winner and her second offspring, Our Emblem, was G1-placed. Her third foal, Traditionally, was also a Grade 1 winner and her daughter My Flag won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and finished third the following year in the Belmont Stakes.
She was voted Kentucky’s Broodmare of the Year in 1996.
Pensioned in 2006, she passed away on April 8, 2010, leaving behind a legacy few horses can match.
After all, Personal Ensign did indeed win ’em all.