SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Mere feet from a huge victory, Elate met excruciating defeat once again at Saratoga Race Course.
She dueled Midnight Bisou down the stretch Saturday in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course and nudged the shortest of noses in front just before the wire, but one stride later Midnight Bisou answered with a nostril of her own.
It was the sixth win in six starts for Midnight Bisou this year, which includes three Grade I's -- and three narrow victories over Elate, in the Personal Ensign, Grade I Apple Blossom and Grade II Azeri.
Elate dominated the Alabama at Saratoga in 2017, but the track has also been a source of heartache for her connections. She lost two ferocious stretch duels to Abel Tasman, by a head in the 2017 Coaching Club American Oaks and by a neck in last year's Personal Ensign.
After Midnight Bisou's victory over Elate Saturday, all Elate's trainer Bill Mott could do was cut through the crowd in the winner's circle and shake the hand of fellow Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
"Hey, you know what, I've got to give Steve credit," Mott said. "He brought his filly to the race in good order, and she's been running good and we have no excuse."
"You see what a beautiful animal she is, and her composure in accepting what's happening," Asmussen said of Midnight Bisou. "I mean, she walks over there, she knows that it's going to be asked of her, and for her to have the composure and the elegance that she does, knowing she's about to put on an effort like that, it's immeasurable class.
"I'm a huge fan of Elate's. I've watched her for three years now, and to see her train here at Saratoga and the races she's run, nothing but respect for her. It's just a beautiful thing to see Midnight Bisou up to the task to win the Personal Ensign, against Elate, at a mile and an eighth, today, at Saratoga. ... That's a lot of checkmarks on our list."
Midnight Bisou, ridden by Mike Smith, checked all of that off while assigned to carry four more pounds than Elate.
She spent the early stages of the Personal Ensign in last place in the six-horse field, then Smith angled her a few paths away from the rail down the backstretch and started to urge her for more run on the second turn.
Monitoring this activity with a few peeks back was jockey Jose Ortiz on Elate, who was in third while tracking Coach Rocks and She's a Julie.
Elate moved to the front as they approached the quarter pole, then was joined from the outside by Midnight Bisou in the stretch as they settled into a rousing duel galloping in sync.
Midnight Bisou gained a sliver of daylight ahead at the only moment it counted.
"You thought she won, but you're never comfortable until you see the number up," Asmussen said. "They both came into the stretch with a lot of horse. You could tell how confident Jose was when he came into the stretch, and Mike ... you knew it was going to lock up from there."
"The mare ran a tremendous race," Smith said. "It was a fight to get by Elate, who is a champion in her own right.
"I thought I got there at the wire, but there have been times before when I thought I did and didn't."
"Two of the speed horses that we figured would be in front of us were in front of us, but we weren't head and head with them," Mott said. "It gave us a good target, and Midnight Bisou had to come over ground that we'd already been over. So I don't see any big excuse right now. It was a good race. One jump before the wire, we were ahead in front.
"Maybe we'll have to keep her in training another year and try again, I don't know," he said with a chuckle. "But she ran great. The top two fillies ran great."