Icon Project wins Personal Ensign

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Andrew Rosen and Marty Wolfson came to Saratoga, confident, for theTest Aug. 8. First Passage turned her head at the break, bobbled andthe Grade I went up in smoke. The second choice rallied to finishfourth.

In horse racing, you take your lumps and sign up for more.

Twenty-two days later, Rosen and Wolfson returned to Saratoga, this time with Icon Project in Sunday’s $400,000 Personal Ensign. Same cv; expensive yearling, started career in England, flourished at Calder since returning to America, taking money in a Grade I stakes at Saratoga.

Where everything went wrong with First Passage, everything went right for Icon Project. Under Julien Leparoux, the favorite dominated seven rivals and cruised to a 13 1/2-length romp.

Outsider Weathered broke sharply and went straight to the lead with Unbridled Belle finding a spot in second. Icon Project folded into a perfect spot, outside in third as Weathered posted fractions of 23.81 and 47.62 seconds. Weathered took the field through three quarters in 1:11.31 as $1.7 million earner Unbridled Belle retreated going into the turn. Icon Project rolled past Weathered and turned for home in command. Leparoux hit her left-handed at head of the stretch and she opened up a quick 5 lengths.

At the eighth pole, he hit her right-handed and she swapped to her left lead and then back to her right. That was about all she did wrong. Second choice Miss Isella flattened out as Swift Temper rallied mildly to finish second with Morena held third after 10 furlongs in 2:02.37.

After the Grade I score, Rosen and Wolfson were still thinking about the Test while celebrating the Personal Ensign.

“First Passage, she should have won the Test. She got left at the gate, I tried to get Julien but he was riding Informed Decision at Arlington,” Wolfson said. “I expected this filly to win, I didn’t know it was going to be that dominating.”

“I came to the Test really confident. I thought there was no way I was going to lose the Test, so I didn’t come here that confident,” Rosen said, on his way to cash his tickets. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad, my dad introduced me to racing, I’ve been doing it my whole life so I understand, you enjoy these moments because there are lot more the other way.”

Rosen’s father, Carl, campaigned 1974 champion 3-year-old filly Chris Evert and her grandson, 1984 2-year-old champion Chief’s Crown. Heir to his father’s fashion business, Rosen has continued his involvement in fashion, owning Theory Clothing Company and continued his involvement in racing, owning a string of horses that usually start in England with trainer Brian Meehan. If they don’t turn out there, they come over here. First Passage and Icon Project have carried the Rosen flag this year.

First Passage, a $1.2 million yearling, won four races including the Grade III Azalea at Calder before the Test. She had made one start in England, finishing 15th in her 2-year-old debut. Icon Project, a $775,000 yearling, won one of five starts in England but had performed admirably against Grade II and listed stakes competition. Rosen shipped her here in November, she won an allowance race on turf at Gulfstream Park in April, finished third in the La Prevoyante and then came to life when the Grade III New York Handicap washed off the turf in June. She won that, then finished second in the Grade II Delaware Handicap when Swift Temper galloped on the lead. The Personal Ensign provided Icon Project’s first Grade I triumph.

She came to Wolfson without much hype.

“An a-other-than horse that had been running against good horses,” Wolfson said. “I looked back at her form and saw that Folk Opera beat her a head and a couple of horses she ran against I had followed. It took her a while to acclimate, but she did. First Passage was the same way.”

Wolfson sent Icon Project and First Passage to Barry Eisaman’s training center in Ocala for freshening before heading back to Calder. Based at Calder, Wolfson suggested dirt for Icon Project immediately after she came into his barn. Rosen wavered and they sent her out three times on the turf. When the New York Handicap came off the grass, Wolfson was counting his money.

“She had trained great on the dirt all along but she had come over as a grass horse. I didn’t want to cross anybody but I told him the first race she ran I wouldn’t mind it if came off but it didn’t,” Wolfson said. “This is the same way she ran in the New York Handicap, everything changed then. I don’t think you have to carry around the track with her.”

Rosen listened to Wolfson but wanted to win a stakes with Icon Project before they began experimenting with the dirt.

“I was being cautious, Marty kept telling me, ‘We’ve got to run this horse on the dirt, and I said, ‘Marty, let’s just see if we can knock out a stakes then we can do anything,’ ” Rosen said. “I didn’t want to take any chances, I had another filly we ran on the dirt and she bowed a tendon so I was always nervous about the whole thing. She’s got tremendous class and quality. I buy a lot of horses and not too many of them like this.”

Rosen lives in Manhattan but sends all his horses to Meehan (who picks them out as well) in England, mostly because of the training style and atmosphere there. The New York Handicap was the first New York win photo he appeared in since 1995.

“It’s not about me seeing the horses, it’s about developing the best possible horse I can develop,” Rosen said. “It’s not about watching them run, it’s a philosophy and a program I have, I work very closely with Brian, days like this make it seem like it’s working, but there’s been a lot of other days that I question what I’m doing. We knew this was going to happen eventually.”