She was named for a program that was created to encourage idealistic endeavors.
With every stride Icon Project took in the stretch of the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, the bay filly showed owner Andrew Rosen she was worthy of her ambitious moniker.
In a year filled with statement-making races by talented distaffers, Icon Project thrust her name into the discussion of leading older females when she romped to a 131/2-length victory in the 11/4-mile Personal Ensign on Aug. 30.
Icon Project will aim to send another powerful message Sunday when she goes for her second straight Grade I win in the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland.
The 11⁄8-mile Spinster is one of five Grade I races that highlight Keeneland's opening weekend, which also features the Darley Alcibiades on Friday and the Shadwell Turf Mile, First Lady Stakes and Dixiana Breeders' Futurity on Saturday.
Rosen — founder of the successful fashion label Theory — experienced racing's ultimate high 25 years ago when his family campaigned champion Chief's Crown, winner of the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
As Rosen watched Icon Project destroy a Personal Ensign field that included Grade I winner Unbridled Belle and eventual Grade I winner Swift Temper, he was reminded why he's remained so passionate about racing.
"You know, that's why we're in the game is to have a horse like that who can distinguish themselves in such an amazing way," said Rosen, who named Icon Project after Theory's program by the same name that recognizes artistic initiatives or philanthropic programs. "It was a big thrill for me, and it sort of took me back to that feeling when Chief's Crown won the (1984) Saratoga Special and the Hopeful.
"I actually had (Chief's Crown trainer) Roger Laurin and (Three Chimneys Farm owner) Robert Clay with me the day of the Personal Ensign so ... it was great to share that moment with them."
Unraced at age 2, Icon Project began her career last year in Europe with trainer Brian Meehan and has been proving herself against the best of her crop from the start.
In her career debut in April 2008 in England, Icon Project finished second to eventual multiple Group I winner Dar Re Mi.
Though Icon Project remained on the turf for her first three starts after coming to the United States in 2009, trainer Marty Wolfson insisted she would shine on the dirt — a fact that came to fruition when she won the New York Stakes at Belmont by 131/4 lengths after the June 20 race was rained off the turf and switched to the main track.
"Brian (Meehan) knew it would take some time for her to grow into her frame, so we basically took it easy on her and waited for her to come into her own," Rosen said. "When she came over here, I was still plugging away with her on grass, but ... Marty had always said to me, 'Don't be afraid if it gets rained off the turf one day, because she's going to love the dirt.'"
Icon Project, a 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, rallied from off the pace to finish second to Swift Temper in the Grade II Delaware Handicap on July 19. But her connections believe the stalking trip she received in the Personal Ensign, which resulted in her fourth win in 11 career starts, better suited her running style.
And although Icon Project has won two of her three career starts on the dirt, Rosen opted to skip the Grade I Beldame at Belmont last weekend in favor of the Spinster over Keeneland's Polytrack in anticipation of a possible start in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, which will be run on Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface on Nov. 6.
"We have to get through the Spinster before we look at Santa Anita," Rosen said. "You know, occasionally one's thoughts drift (to the Breeders' Cup), but my focus is not there yet. That would be something to cherish if it happens ... but I did take a look at (Chief's Crown's) trophy the other day."