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Strike Charmer Upsets Lady Eli at 27-1 in G2 Ballston Spa

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Courtland Farm’s Strike Charmer patiently stayed off the pace before rallying past favored Lady Eli to win Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa at Saratoga Race Course.

Strike Charmer, trained by Mark Hennig, charged from last and barreled past an embattled Lady Eli to win by three-quarters of a length and finish the 1 1/16 miles in 1:38.77, just shy of Ironicus’ course record of 1:38.54 set in September 2015.

Junior Alvarado kept Strike Charmer off of Sympathy’s fast fractions of 22.45 and 45.55 seconds before angling out at the five-sixteenths mark and going six wide to overtake Lady Eli, Sentiero Italia and Miss Temple City in deep stretch.

“I knew they were going pretty quick. I could feel the pace going fast in front of me,” Alvarado said. “I saved as much horse as I could for the end, but as soon as I turned for home, I saw the favorites just right there, still in front of me, and I still really hadn’t gotten into my filly. I said, ‘OK, we’ve got a good chance right now; just make sure to put her on the outside.’ She gave me a nice run at the end.”

Strike Charmer added to a resume that includes the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap and the Grade 3 Beaugay, which she won by 2 ¼ lengths on May 14 at Belmont Park.

Off at 27-1, Strike Charmer paid $57.50 for a $2 win wager and increased her career earnings to $632,850 to cap the seven graded stakes races on Travers Day that drew an announced attendance of 48,630.

“I didn’t know they’d go that fast early but we were where we needed to be with the pace being that way,” Hennig said. “When Junior got off of her last time he told me, ‘If I get her outside, she really wants to punch.’ He said she was making up ground last time and she really wasn’t even fully extending herself. He felt like having learned something from riding her once, it would be wise to just kind of sit.

“We talked in the paddock after watching the Flintshire race [G1 Longines Sword Dancer] and I told him, ‘Don’t get stuck behind that rabbit because everybody’s going to be lined up at the quarter pole thinking they’re coming off the rail,'” he added. “Lady Eli took the overland route and I thought he did a great job of just kind of hiding out behind her and then trying to pounce. We were fortunate enough to run her down today.”

Losing for the first time in seven career starts, Lady Eli looked strong returning from a 13-month layoff while recovering from laminitis and finished a half-length ahead of Sentiero Italia. Sheep Pond Partners’ 4-year-old Divine Park filly raced for the first time since winning the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 4, 2015.

“She ran very well,” said her trainer, Chad Brown. “I’m a little disappointed she got beat but I’m happy that she’s back to the races. It looked like she just got a little tired that last part. She made a big move there on the turn under a wicked pace and it just took a little too much out of her.”

Added Hennig: “”It’s an amazing story that [Lady Eli has] come back from what she had. Anytime that happens with a horse we all feel it in the industry, when one of our best horses suffers something like that. When horses founder it’s such a struggle and it’s a great story that she did make it back, but we don’t mind raining on her parade today.”

Onus, Miss Temple City, Excilly and Sympathy completed the order of finish. Sweet Acclaim was scratched.

Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa (G2) Quotes

Mark Hennig, winning trainer of Strike Charmer (No. 6): “I didn’t know they’d go that fast early but we were where we needed to be with the pace being that way. When Junior got off of her last time he told me, ‘If I get her outside, she really wants to punch.’ He said she was making up ground last time and she really wasn’t even fully extending herself. He felt like having learned something from riding her once, it would be wise to just kind of sit. We talked in the paddock after watching the Flintshire race and I told him, ‘Don’t get stuck behind that rabbit because everybody’s going to be lined up at the quarter pole thinking they’re coming off the rail.’ Lady Eli took the overland route and I thought he did a great job of just kind of hiding out behind her and then trying to pounce. We were fortunate enough to run her down today.”

On beating Lady Eli: “It’s an amazing story that she’s come back from what she had. Anytime that happens with a horse we all feel it in the industry, when one of our best horses suffers something like that. When horses founder it’s such a struggle and it’s a great story that she did make it back, but we don’t mind raining on her parade today.”

Junior Alvarado, winning jockey aboard Strike Charmer (No. 6): “I knew they were going pretty quick. I could feel the pace going fast in front of me. I saved as much horse as I could for the end but as soon as I turned from home, I saw the favorites just right there, still in front of me, and I still really hadn’t gotten into my filly. I said, OK, we’ve got a good chance right now, just make sure to put her on the outside. She gave me a nice run at the end.”

Chad Brown, trainer of beaten favorite and runner-up Lady Eli (No. 3):“She ran very well. I’m a little disappointed she got beat but I’m happy that she’s back to the races. It looked like she just got a little tired that last part. She made a big move there on the turn under a wicked pace and it just took a little too much out of her.”

“[Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.] said he got her off the fence down the backside so they wouldn’t trap her. He gave her a little bit of a wide trip but really didn’t want to get in trouble with this filly. He said he moved into a pretty strong pace. He didn’t want the two other horses in the race, Sentiero Italia and Miss Temple City, to get too far away from him so he moved up on them and felt he had them all measured. He just didn’t imagine that horse coming from the back and getting him. That’s the way it worked out. We’ll build off this race.”

Irad Ortiz, Jr., jockey on runner-up and beaten favorite Lady Eli (No. 3): “She came off a year layoff, an injury. I’m just glad she made the race and came out great. She felt good. She probably needed the race.”

NYRA

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