Lady Eli sparkles in Flower Bowl
Fast forward to Saturday, and that hypothetical became reality – in just the second start of her comeback. Quickening best of all in a tactical race controlled by Sentiero Italia, Lady Eli collared the pacesetter to prevail in Belmont Park’s signature race in her division, the $500,000 Flower Bowl (G1).
With the Flower Bowl being a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), Lady Eli has now booked her return to Santa Anita, the scene of her dazzling triumph in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
The most heartwarming story of the 2016 racing season (that I can think of at the moment), Lady Eli’s renaissance owes a great deal to her whole team of caretakers, led by trainer Chad Brown and assistant Cherie DeVaux. But her own inflexible will, an iron-clad mental toughness to match her physical qualities, was the sine qua non.
Lady Eli was sent off as the 4-5 off a promising reappearance in the August 27 Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga, where she finished second in an insanely run race (thanks to the curious use of a pacemaker). Although it would have been a tall task to win first time out post-laminitis in that kind of spot, a furious pace made it an even stiffer assignment.
The Flower Bowl set up much differently. Sentiero Italia figured to get away with slow splits, turning the 1 1/4-mile event into a dash for home. The pre-laminitis Lady Eli would have clobbered them. The Ballston Spa intimated that she still had a turn of foot. The Flower Bowl was the acid test, however, and I had my heart in my mouth much of the way. Would we see the Lady Eli of old? Was it too much to hope for, a fairy tale? No, no it wasn’t. She was really back.
Under regular pilot Irad Ortiz Jr., Lady Eli was perched in an outside tracking third as Sentiero Italia cruised through splits of :23.99, :49.03 and 1:13.73 on the firm inner turf. She continued to travel comfortably, just a length off the leader, when the pace began to crank up at the mile mark in 1:37.03.
The stage was set turning for home. Lady Eli smoothly advanced to challenge Sentiero Italia, who had plenty left for the stretch drive. The longtime leader proceeded to reel off her final quarter in :22 and change.
Lady Eli effectively said, “I’ll see you and raise you.” The fan favorite turned on the afterburners and overtook Sentiero Italia by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 1:59.85.
According to Trakus, Lady Eli blasted her final quarter in :22.63, with Sentiero Italia recording :22.88. That’s even better than her closing split in the 2015 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), also held over 10 furlongs on the inner turf. Trakus clocked her at :22.77 in that final start before she was stricken with laminitis. The comparison isn’t precise, since the Belmont Oaks pace was considerably faster. But at the very least, her Flower Bowl punch proves that she can still summon a lethal turn of foot.
Brown saddled the first and third-place finishers, for Sea Calisi rallied for the bronze. The French import wasn’t going to be best suited by a slow pace on firm ground (as opposed to soft), so she’ll hope for a faster tempo at Santa Anita.
Deep closer Strike Charmer, who capitalized on the Ballston Spa meltdown, had little chance the way the race unfolded. She did well to close from last for fourth. Itsonlyactingdad was fifth, and Andre Fabre shipper Ame Bleue brought up the rear.
Lady Eli now boasts a sterling mark of 8-7-1-0, $1,829,800. As Brown noted in the post-race quotes, the Runnymede and Catesby Clay-bred filly will be making her third start back in the Filly & Mare Turf. She could be positively peaking come November 5. And that’s a hypothetical worth savoring.
Quotes from Belmont Park
Winning rider Irad Ortiz Jr.: “We broke out of there and Senterio Italia had some speed so we sat right off of them. Then Pletcher's filly [Itsonlyactingdad] showed some speed today, so we sat and I tried to wait as long as I could. I could have saved a little more ground but that's the way the trip was coming out and it worked out good for us. She was ready today.”
Winning trainer Chad Brown: “I wasn't concerned that was she wasn't going to be the same, based on her training. To my eye watching her train before the Ballston Spa and the Flower Bowl, this filly has been training as good as ever.”
Brown on going back to the Breeders’ Cup: “It'll be her third race off the layoff, she has a mile-and-a-quarter race under her belt now. She has a very good chance of getting the firm turf that she loves out at Santa Anita. She has a win out there already, although they have a new turf course, but I'm sure it's similar. If anything else, she's comfortable with the environment and shipping out there, so I'm excited to bring her into the Breeders' Cup.
“There were a lot of different scenarios, some extremely scary, and the best case was we'd be back heading to the Breeders' Cup race as one of the favorites, and here we are. It couldn't happen to a more deserving horse, for her to overcome all this.”
Lady Eli was perhaps the brightest highlight of a great day for the Brown barn. In addition to wins by Practical Joke in the Champagne (G1) and Irish Jasper in Keeneland’s Thoroughbred Club of America (G2), Brown swept the trifecta in the $500,000 Hill Prince (G3) at Belmont.
Ramsey Farm’s homebred Camelot Kitten, despite rating as far as seven lengths behind a modest pace, rolled late to head 5-2 favorite Beach Patrol at the wire. Irad Ortiz Jr. made it a graded stakes double, and his third win on the card.
Stablemate Annals of Time finished a creditable third in only his third career start. With this experience under his belt, he’s entitled to improve.
Surprise pacesetter Monster Bea tried to hang on in the lane but succumbed in fourth. Inspector Lynley, who upset Camelot Kitten last out in the Saranac (G3), was a non-threatening sixth. American Patriot continued his form decline by backpedaling to ninth of 10.
Camelot Kitten was notching his fourth graded victory of his productive season, following the American Turf (G2), Pennine Ridge (G3), and National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2). The Kitten’s Joy colt – a full brother to Bobby’s Kitten – has compiled a record of 10-5-3-0, $963,520.
Photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand