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ARCADIA, CA — Tracking second throughout, Lady Eli overhauled pacesetter Avenge turning for home and repelled a resolute challenge from Goodyearforroses late to take Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita by a 1/2-length.
Under regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., and trained by Chad Brown, Lady Eli, who overcame a life threatening bout with laminitis last year, negotiated 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:45.29.
“Chad had spoken to Irad and told him about getting her in the clear,” said Cherie DeVaux, assistant to Brown, who remained with his stable at Belmont Park. “He didn’t want him to take too much hold of her because he didn’t want her to have too much to do. He was concerned about Avenge getting an easy lead.
“Because of everything she’s been through, it’s way more emotional when she runs. Her tenacity is what makes her great. It was really emotional for me today because this is the first time I’ve saddled her. The Breeders’ Cup (Filly & Mare Turf on November 4 at Del Mar) is the ultimate objective.”
Beaten by a head in her lone start this year, Keeneland’s Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes on April 15, Lady Eli was off at 3-5 in a field of five fillies and mares.
A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred mare by Divine Park, Lady Eli is owned by Sheep Pond Partners, who collected $180,000 for the win, boosting her earnings to $2,419,800. With the Gamely, her fourth career Grade 1 triumph, she’s now 11-8-3-0 overall.
“I just tried to follow the speed, which was Avenge today,” said Ortiz, Jr. “I tried to follow as close as possible, and it worked out. It’s always a nice trip when I get to come out here.”
Ridden by Corey Nakatani, the Irish-bred Goodyearforroses was third early and moved into contention around the far turn, got to the hip of the winner 1 furlong out, but was no match inside the 1/16 pole, finishing 3 1/4 lengths in front of Avenge.
“She ran gamely,” said Nakatani. “She gave me every indication and every chance to do it. She ran a great race — she ran dynamite. It was a big effort for this horse today to try to run down a filly like this.”
Ridden by Flavien Prat and idle since November 5, Avenge tired through the drive to finish a 1/2-length in front of Mokat, who nosed out Pretty Girl for fourth.
Fractions on the race were 23.23, 46.46, 1:09.69 and 1:33.37.
Lady Eli returned $3.20, $2.20, and $2.10. Goodyearforroses brought back $4.20 and $2.20, while Avenge paid $2.10 to show.
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Co-Owner Jay Hanley, Lady Eli: “Absolutely, she’s a champion and showed her true colors today.
“I think I feel like we were measuring Avenge and Goodyearforroses was measuring us. There was a little bit of a chess game going on up front the whole way, but the bottom line is, she still out-kicked Goodyearforroses and ran by Avenge. At the end of the day, it was a really good and strategic ride by Irad.
Regarding her battle with laminitis: “Cherie was with her 24/7. There was no chance of her racing again. I mean, forget about that. That was totally secondary at the time. It was clear she was a world-class filly, and it was just about trying to save her life.
“The fact that she can come back and do this, it’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing. All we can do as owners is try to be good stewards, and that’s our job. We try to make good decisions, but for the most part, we just try to put our faith in Chad and his team.
“This is all gravy to us. We’re playing with house money now. I feel like we wanted to bring her back, mostly for the fans. It’s to showcase her for the fans. The fans that are here today, I’m sure many are here to see her.”
Co-Owner Sol Kumin, Lady Eli: “It feels good, this is a special horse. She’s got us super hooked on this sport, and she’s been through so much.
Regarding Lady Eli’s two recent seconds by a head and a nose: “Today, we changed up where we sat, where we went in the paddock, I brought one kid instead of my three.
“She’s the first horse we bought as part of our ownership. I can’t say enough about Chad Brown and his assistant, Cherie. This is all thanks to them. It’s been such a journey.
“We couldn’t be happier, but we were nervous. We thought it was a good spot, but we were nervous. They were going kind of quick up front, and she was closer to the pace than we would have thought. Goodyearforroses was coming on the outside. and that’s how we got beat a couple of times right on the wire. We were a little nervous, but she’s a champion and showed us what she’s made of so, we couldn’t be happier.
“We flew out this morning. The three of us were on a JetBlue flight for a quick 24 hour turn around. This guy right here, Jax Kumin, is the only one of my kids that can handle it. He’s seven years old.
Regarding her battle with laminitis: “We went through all of the emotions. At first, we just wanted her to live and be ok. Then, it seemed like she wanted to do more and to run, so Chad brought her back into training. Then, you think she won’t have the same form, and you don’t know until you get to that first race. Now, we feel like she’s back.
“The goal is the Filly & Mare Breeders’ Cup Turf. If all goes well, that’s the plan. We’ll take it one race at a time.”
Santa Anita Park
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