Lady Eli & a brutal 24 hours as a racing fan
As I stare at my screen and try to write this Monday evening, it's hard to believe how much the turf racing landscape has changed in the span of a mere 24 hours. On a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon, the biggest news was the upset of A Lot by the front-running Gallery in the Manila, and the Twitter argument about whether John Velazquez should have been a little more enterprising early aboard the favorite.
How inconsequential all of that seems now, after three bombshell stories.
By far the worst news was that Lady Eli is fighting for her life against that evil killer called laminitis. Just 11 days ago, this beautiful, unbeaten filly had sent fans -- and this observer -- into transports of joy in the July 4 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1). We all had our pet ideas of what the rest of her itinerary should look like, assured that here was a rare creature indeed. The filly and mare turf division was at her feet, wasn't it? And with her fellow three-year-old fillies still sorting themselves out on the dirt, couldn't she end up as champion in that division too?
Even as we entertained such thoughts, little did we know that Lady Eli had stepped on a nail going back to trainer Chad Brown's barn after her devastating Oaks win. How cruel a twist of fate. She escapes all danger on the racecourse, only to be laid low by a stray nail on the backside? That's like Alexander the Great succumbing to the mosquito.
I grew concerned when reading Brown's call for prayers. That escalated into alarm when Brown's father tweeted this:
I would say that our hearts are shattered too, but as much as we can love Lady Eli from afar, that can't compare to the personal bond forged by those closest to her. Brown and his team will experience this blow in a far more crushing way. So too will everyone who's been around Lady Eli from her days at Runnymede.
Whether we ever get to see her on the racecourse again or not, I just hope -- and pray -- that she survives.
Still reeling from Lady Eli, the next bombshell was the retirement of Main Sequence due to a tendon injury. It's obviously a punch in the gut that the reigning champion turf and older male is now off the scene, especially since I'd voted for him as Horse of the Year in my first-ever Eclipse ballot.
Yet at the same time, I felt an admixture of relief that there was actually a reason for his flop in the United Nations (G1). And we were also reminded of how thoughtful trainer Graham Motion and his team are. In the midst of their crushing news about the stable star, they made special reference to the serious injuries suffered by Main Sequence's regular rider, Rajiv Maragh, at Belmont on Friday. Their kindness lent a nice touch to otherwise bad news.
Main Sequence leaves a void at the top of the turf division, with no obvious heir apparent. Things look pretty fluid at this point among the longer-distance turf types. And unless Wise Dan continues to make good progress and remarkably gets back into the championship picture, you can say the same about the milers.
The bleak news cycle started about this time last evening, with the revelation of California Chrome's cannon bone injury. The Horse of the Year was not only out of the Arlington Million (G1), but hors de combat for the rest of the season (and maybe even for good).
While it's disappointing that Chrome wouldn't be seen again for the foreseeable future, I was worried about how he'd be able to deliver a peak performance in the Million.
The vibes from part of the Chrome camp -- trainer Art Sherman and minority owner Steve Coburn -- hadn't been encouraging through his Royal Ascot caper. They knew that he was spent after laying his body down when second in the Dubai World Cup (G1), and were pretty much on the same page about wanting to return him to the U.S. Majority owner Perry Martin carried the day when deciding to send him to England for the June 17 Prince of Wales's (G1).
From an ocean away, we could see that Chrome looked rather thin, suggesting that he wasn't likely to be in tip-top shape for an awfully stern test. Then came the hoof bruise that knocked him out of the Prince of Wales's, followed by the report that he was wearing bar shoes. Now he was being whisked off to Chicago, instead of going home to Sherman's barn? I was taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding his time at Arlington, which didn't even last a week before the other shoe dropped, so to speak.
The most worrying thing about the Chrome news was that the injury was reportedly found because he was being vetted for a stud deal. Does that mean he wasn't showing signs of a problem before? If so, how long could that go on before he would present as lame, or at least off?
We can only hope that because his 2015 campaign has gone awry, that Martin would decide to keep him in training next year -- with Sherman, and let him map out the agenda.
Photo of Lady Eli, the day after the Belmont Oaks, courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Susie Raisher.