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Lady Eli Sparkles in Belmont Oaks

Lady Eli preserved her perfect record and dazzled in the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (gr. IT) July 4, collecting the second grade I stakes score of her career in dominant fashion at Belmont Park.

In far deeper than her 3-year-old season debut for Sheep Pond Partners, the May 31 Wonder Again Stakes in which she dusted seven rivals, Lady Eli once again proved her dominance of the turf filly scene. Taking the overland route under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., after biding her time midpack behind a hot pace set by Lady Zuzu, the Chad Brown trainee kicked to the front turning for home and drew off in eye-catching fashion to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

“As we stretch out our turf horses, you wonder if they’re going to lose their turn of foot,” Brown said. “The term ‘breathes different air’ gets thrown around a lot when someone has a very good horse, and I’ve been lucky to have some great turf fillies and mares, but this one ‘breathes different air’ for sure. She certainly has the most devastating turn of foot I’ve ever worked around.”

Lady Zuzu and Pine Needles ran off together early on in the Belmont Oaks, with Lady Zuzu getting the advantage to run a quarter in :22.93 and a half in :47.23. Three-quarters went in 1:11.71 and then Lady Eli took over for a 1:36.05 mile, en route to a final time of 1:59.27 for 1 1/4 miles on firm turf.

“I was feeling a lot better once we got off the first turn and I saw Irad got outside, which is what I wanted to do,” Brown said. “I didn’t know how he was going to do it with the two post, but I figured if the pace was quick enough—which it was—there’d be some separation and he could do it. That was our game plan and that was what happened. Once she got outside… I knew it wouldn’t be the trip that got her beat.”

“I had a perfect trip,” Ortiz confirmed. “We expected to have the best horse in the race, so that’s why we saved ground the first half of the race. But after that, I know nobody noticed us, so I just took her out and looked behind, and before the half-mile I knew I had a lot of horse. Nobody put pressure on me and she took off.”

Lady Eli returned $3.60 to win, favored at odds of 4-5 in a 14-horse field, while Itsonlyactingdad and Outstanding rounded out the trifecta. Sentiero Italia, Strict Compliance, Consumer Credit, Sharla Rae, Miss Chatelaine, Pine Needles, Spanish Queen, Olorda, Lady Zuzu, Daring Duchess, and Gypsy Judy completed the order of finish.

Todd Pletcher, trainer of runner-up Itsonlyactingdad, said he thought his runner turned in a good effort.

“I was really pleased,” he said. “I thought our filly ran really well. She kind of got squeezed from both sides leaving the gate and it caused her to get shuffled back a bit. I thought she closed really well. We were second best.”

By Divine Park  , Lady Eli has won all six starts, including the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT). After breaking her maiden in her debut at Saratoga Race Course last August, she won the Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont in September before her Breeders’ Cup score. In her 3-year-old debut, Lady Eli claimed the Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (gr. IIIT) at KeenelandApril 12. In winning the Belmont Oaks, a Breeder’s Cup Challenge “Win & You’re In” event, she earned an automatic starting berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) at Keeneland Oct. 31.

“We’ll have to take a look at (the schedule),” Brown said. “We have the Lake Placid (gr. II, Aug. 14) at Saratoga if we wanted to keep her against straight 3-year-old fillies. We also have the Beverly D. (gr. I, Aug. 15 atArlington International Racecourse) if we want to look at bigger goals and run her against older fillies and mares. We could also wait until the Breeders’ Cup (to run her against older), because we have the Queen Elizabeth (gr. I, Oct. 10) right at Keeneland, where the Breeders’ Cup is being held. Her next major is the Queen Elizabeth. How we get there, we’ll have to talk about it.”

Lady Eli was a $160,000 purchase by owner Jay Hanley of Sheep Pond from the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training this year when consigned by Eddie Woods. She had been pinhooked by Bradley Thoroughbreds for the same amount from Runnymede Farm at the 2013 Keeneland September sale.

Bred in Kentucky by Runnymede and Catesby Clay, the dark bay runner is out of the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur, who is also the dam of grade III winner Bizzy Caroline. Sacre Caroline, a 2-year-oldBlame   filly out of Sacre Coeur, was purchased by Pegasus Farms for $360,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale. The promising filly currently is in training in France with Pia Brandt.


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