Making her final start at Saratoga Race Course – nearly a year following last summer’s miraculous return from a life-threatening bout with laminitis – Lady Eli put an exclamation point on a spectacular Travers Day program with her thrilling come-from-behind victory in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa on Saturday.
The 29th running of 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa, for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up, was the last of seven stakes, including six Grade 1s, worth $4.95 million in purses on a blockbuster 13-race program, highlighted by West Coast’s victory in the 148th renewal of the $1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets.
Set to be offered as a broodmare prospect at Keeneland’s November sale, Sheep Pond Partners’ Lady Eli completed the distance in 1:39.70 over a firm Mellon turf course. It was 1 ½ lengths back to determined pacesetter Dickinson in second, followed by Lady Eli’s Chad Brown-trained stablemates Roco Rojo and Anotonoe and 14-1 long shot On Leave. Time and Motion was scratched.
Favored at 3-5 over a group that included two fellow Grade 1 winners, Lady Eli returned $3.40 on a $2 win bet.
It was the third straight victory this year and sixth career Grade 1 triumph for Lady Eli, coming five weeks after her head decision over Quidura in the Diana at Saratoga, where she now owns three wins and a second from four lifetime tries. Her other local victory came in her Aug. 25, 2014 unveiling.
“She is amazing,” Brown said. “I’m so glad we decided to bring her here today, for a lot of reasons. We got a good race into her again and, most important, all the fans at Saratoga and beyond got to see her race here one more time. Just a great day.”
Regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. maintained a strong hold on Lady Eli in fourth and in the clear as Dickinson raced through an opening quarter-mile in 24.34 seconds, chased by 9-5 second choice Antonoe. On Leave moved up to apply pressure after a half in 48.92 while Ortiz moved down to the inside to save ground.
Lady Eli was still behind horses on the far turn until Ortiz swung three wide as they straightened for home, and she powered down the stretch to collar Dickinson past the eighth pole and surge past for her 10th career victory from 13 starts. The $240,000 winner’s share pushed her lifetime bankroll to $2,959,800.
“I got a perfect trip,” Ortiz said. “I saved ground on the first turn and then split some horses and when I dug in, I asked her and she was there for me. She’s my favorite. I have been on her her whole life. I’m just excited for her and I’m excited that we won another race.”
Brown has now won three editions of the Ballston Spa, having previously scored with Dacita in 2015 and Zagora in 2012. Lady Eli took a short lead into the stretch of last year’s Ballston Spa – her first race in nearly 14 months – but was caught by long shot Strike Charmer and finished second by less than a length.
“She was unlucky losing off the layoff … so it’s nice to kind of kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and wipe the slate [clean],” Brown said of his third win on the card, including the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial with Practical Joke.
“I have so much confidence in her,” he added. “You never really know until they cross the wire, but when she tipped out I know how devastating her turn of foot is and I felt confident she would get it done. She really is a horse of a lifetime. Everything she’s overcome; just her natural abilities are remarkable. She’s just a rare, rare horse.”