A case for Lady Eli as champion two-year-old filly

Profile Picture: Jen Caldwell

Jen Caldwell

November 17th, 2014

This year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, usually a sure-bet in tabbing champion juvenile filly, really muddied the picture and left the door open for history to be made.

In this and my next post, I’ll be making cases for two very different fillies to receive the Eclipse Award as 2014’s top two-year-old miss.

First, though, I offer two facts for your consideration:

·      Since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies began in 1984, champion two-year-old filly has been either the winner or in the top three of that race every year

·      Since the modern Eclipse Awards began in 1971, not one exclusive turf runner at the time has been honored as champion two-year-old filly.

Now, let me explain the second fact.

There have been plenty of juvenile filly champs who started out on the main track only to end their careers on turf, but none raced only on grass prior to earning an Eclipse Award.

In fact, only two -- Heavenly Cause (1980) and Dreaming of Anna (2006) -- even made starts on turf before being named champion two-year-old filly, and they both earned their major victories as juveniles on the main track.

That could all change this year thanks to Take Charge Brandi.

Not because she ran on turf prior to her BC Juvenile Fillies win, but because she was the 61-1 longest shot on the board when defeating a slew of other classy fillies over a sizzling-fast surface.

Rewind one day before the Juvenile Fillies and you have Lady Eli, who had only ever competed on the green and kept her record perfect with a romping win in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf. The only other juvenile filly with an unblemished mark entering the BC was Cristina’s Journey and she finished next-to-last in the Juvenile Fillies.

Lady Eli ran a mile in the Breeders’ Cup in 1:33.41, eclipsing the 1:34.79 recorded by Hootenanny in the BC Juvenile Turf. That means, theoretically at least, she could have beaten the boys by open lengths if her connections had opted to enter her two races earlier on the card.

They didn’t, though, leaving Lady Eli to face the top filly on the West Coast in Sunset Glow. That well-traveled miss ran second in her debut at Presque Isle Downs before breaking her maiden on Belmont Park’s turf next out. Sunset Glow shipped to England for the Albany during the prestigious Royal Ascot meet and just missed when runner-up on that occasion, then traveled back to the United States to romp in the Sorrento and gut out a neck score in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, both on the main track.

In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Sunset Glow led the way while saving ground on the backstretch but was no match for Lady Eli once that filly unleashed her powerful late run. Therefore, while Lady Eli never competed on the main track herself, she easily defeated an accomplished West Coast rival who had.

The obvious conclusion is that Lady Eli is the best two-year-old filly this year and deserves the Eclipse Award. She took on all comers and beat them pretty easily in her past two races.

There will be some who point out that Take Charge Brandi’s win only came because of the blazing-fast track and the BC Juvenile Fillies should be thrown out altogether when the time comes to vote on the Eclipse Awards. Others will stubbornly insist the Award traditionally honors the top main track filly and, until the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf came around, there were no true top class races to test the turf runners in the division.

There are no criteria, beyond the obvious, on choosing Eclipse Award winners. It doesn’t say in some lofty tome that the champion two-year-old filly had to have competed successfully on the main track.

In recent history the BC Juvenile Fillies has helped answer the question pretty definitely, but this year a turf filly has made a “perfect” case for championship honors.

Next week, I’ll lay out how and why Take Charge Brandi could be honored with an Eclipse Award.