With her sixth turf victory in a row, unbeaten Lady Eli has clearly asserted herself as the best turf filly in America, and with her two and 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks over 10 furlongs on July 4, Lady Eli may have shown that she is the best filly of her crop, regardless of surface.
Certainly, the daughter of Airdrie Stud stallion Divine Park (by Chester House) has already achieved an unusual distinction. No Eclipse Award turf champion has ever won its first six starts in succession. That in itself is a nifty bit of insight into this filly’s accomplishments, and that covers a few decades of turf champions.
Admittedly, turf is not the primary racing surface in the States, and therefore the few champions who have started with sizable unbeaten runs have all been on dirt. Just writing the names of Ruffian, Personal Ensign, Gold Beauty, and Princess Rooney brings a shiver of excitement that Lady Eli may be approaching that level.
Among turf horses, the American-trained performer closest to Lady Eli is 1978 turf champion Mac Diarmida (Minnesota Mac). The colt didn’t win until switched to turf in his fourth start, but he won 10 in a row on his proper surface, never raced on anything else after his maiden victory, and won 12 of 13 starts on turf, defeating a 3-year-old John Henry, among others.
Among the Eclipse champions trained overseas, Youth (Ack Ack) won five of his first six starts, including the G1 Prix du Jockey-Club, and Arazi (Blushing Groom) won eight of his first nine starts, including four G1s, but one of those was on dirt in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which earned him the Eclipse as leading 2-year-old colt.
The filly’s accomplishments are attracting appreciation, even from rivals. “I loved her at the sale,” said agent Bob Feld, “but didn’t have anyone to buy her. Then she beat our filly, Miss Temple City, soundly by two and a half lengths in the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland, and you have to be impressed with a horse like that.”
Bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm and Catesby Clay Jr., Lady Eli proved a good sales filly and a wonderful advertisement for her sire, Metropolitan Handicap winner Divine Park.
The multiple G1 winner is out of the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur. The dam was a winner and is the last foal of the great producer Kazadancoa (Green Dancer). The latter is dam of three graded stakes winners – Jacodra, Jacodra’s Devil, and Changing Ways – and Kazadancoa is also the dam of Royal Run, who produced a pair of graded stakes winners in Tejano Run (Breeders’ Futurity) and More Royal (Jersey Derby) and three other daughters who have produced stakes winners.
Sacre Coeur has produced two graded stakes winners herself. In addition to Lady Eli, the mare has foaled Bizzy Caroline (Afleet Alex), winner of the G3 Regret Stakes and Mint Julep Handicap. Sacre Coeur has a 2-year-old filly by Blame who sold for $360,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September sale and a yearling colt by Ghostzapper. The mare did not have a foal in 2015.
With a pair of G1s among her six victories, Lady Eli is among the sterling representatives of Keeneland’s 2014 April sale of 2-year-olds in training, which was discontinued this year. A $160,000 Keeneland September yearling, Lady Eli was a neat and elegant filly at 2 who worked well at the April sale but brought only $160,000 from Jay Hanley out of the Eddie Woods consignment.
Woods could not have hoped for a better work. The filly went a furlong in :10 flat, and she did it with fluency and by showing a stride length pushing 25 feet. That was more than a foot longer than the average stride length at the sale. Furthermore, she scored very well on all internal measures as evaluated by DataTrack International, which rated her a premium prospect on its Best of Sale list.
And at that, she was underrated.
[Please note: The excellence of Lady Eli stands even more in contrast to the irony of fortune. Trainer Chad Brown has reported this week that the 3yo filly stepped on a nail coming back to the barn after the race for the Belmont Oaks and has developed laminitis in her front feet. This very serious condition imperils both the filly’s racing career and her life.]