SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – There has never been a horse quite like Lady Eli, and there likely will not be one like her for many years to come.
Saratoga Race Course has held many historic races, but Saturday’s Grade 1 Diana Stakes victory by Lady Eli may have been one of the most dramatic races ever at The Spa. Class, perseverance, and pure determination were all on display.
Moments before the gates opened for the race, Lady Eli’s stablemate, Antonoe, broke from the starting gate and ran off. Lady Eli also broke through the gate but was held up, quickly corralled, and put back in the gate. However, the prerace antics didn’t bother either horse, as Lady Eli was victorious by a nose over the second-place finisher Quidura, while Antonoe finished a very close third after getting pinched in at the rail. Harmonize, Dickinson, and My Impression completed the order of finish.
It was the second stakes victory on the day for jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who also took the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes aboard Firenze Fire.
“I was happy (with the pace), it was a perfect trip,” said Ortiz about Lady Eli, who has never finished worse than second in her career. “She’s a nice filly and she always shows up. Mike Smith told me one time: a good horse gives you good pressure. She gives me the confidence. I had a lot of patience and waited until I felt like I was going to get there. I didn’t hesitate; I just showed her the whip. I never hit her, I rode her with confidence.”
Saratoga was the site of Lady Eli’s debut win as a 2-year-old and it was where she launched her comeback from laminitis last year when she finished second in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa. She was a Grade 1 winner at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5, and this win gives her two Grade 1 victories in a row after taking the Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita earlier in the year.
“Today was one of her greatest races to date, maybe her best,” Brown said. “Giving eight pounds to the horse she ran down late in the stretch after breaking through the gate, going a little wide, she just overcame everything. Today, she proved she’s one of the all-time greats.
“It was her determination,” he added. “I’m proud she didn’t hang there in the end. She’s always drove past another horse as long as she can see them. She might have been undefeated; three times, she’s gotten beat late in the stretch from behind.”
Brown admitted, though, that there were some anxious moments when both of his fillies broke through the gate before the race.
“You can probably walk through the grandstand here and talk to the people who actually wager their money every day, and they’ll tell you most of the times that happens, they don’t win,” Brown said. “She just overcame that much breaking through the gate. A remarkable performance. The fractions were solid enough, but then again, I know this horse on the lead is a real quality horse. What I liked at that point was that she was alone back there. I felt confident that Irad could at least give her a clear run in the stretch, and that’s all I asked in the paddock. If you just get her clear, I’m confident she’ll get there, and she did.”
Lady Eli returned $3.80, $2.70, and $2.10. Quidura brought back $5.10 and $3.10, while Antonoe paid $2.60 to show.