The Breeders’ Cup almost always carries with it Eclipse Award ramifications. Although personally I think the Eclipse Awards lost some of the prestige once associated with the award for a variety of reasons, for now it’s all we have, and most owners, trainers, and connections like the prospect of winning one. They can increase breeding value, and look good along side the trophies that helped get it.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup certainly has Eclipse ramifications. West Coast appears to have champion three year old locked up. If he were to run poorly, and say Practical Joke were to win the dirt mile against older, or Oscar Performance were to win the turf against older, based on past performances they’d both garner some votes. That would be a far more informed choice than the vote California Chrome received for best turf horse.
There is one horse in particular who has serious Eclipse ramifications this year, and probably no more deserving horse without one in recent years. None I can think of off hand anyway. Lady Eli has earned just shy of $3 million dollars to date. Most of it against the best grass fillies and mares in racing. She’s already a Breeders’ Cup winner and runner up, and has been consistently among the leaders of her division since she was two, with the exception of the time spent on the sidelines fighting a case of double laminitis which likely would have claimed the life of most horses. Last Eli showed the same heart and determination in her battle of life and death as she shows on the racetrack. It wasn’t just recovering and beating her toughest foe, a case of laminitis in both front hooves, it was doing it and coming back to race at the same top level as she left. That is an historic achievement in the Sport of Kings and the best equine comeback I can recall.
Should Lady Eli win the Breeders’ Cup filly and mare turf, it would be hard to deny her the Eclipse Award for best turf filly or mare based on any well informed and knowledgeable voting. Even if she runs well, and finishes second or third she’d merit serious consideration, but a victory would not only be fitting but make her a lock. Does anyone deserve it more?
Lady Eli’s first race back from her courageous battle was the Grade 2 Ballston Spa at none other than Saratoga. Her trainer Chad Brown, and owners would have surely retired her had she not been showing every possible sign she wanted to run, and was training as if she could run at the same level she had before. It was next to impossible for any student or lover of the game not to want and even expect her to win, putting aside just getting into the gate was an achievement most thoroughbreds couldn’t accomplish. The pace was fast that day at Saratoga, faster than usual for a mile and a sixteenth on the grass at the Spa. They went the half in 45.55, and three quarters in 1:09.16. Lady Eli was kept back in fifth in a field of seven early but only about 4-6 lengths off that hot pace. Irad Ortiz sensing she was ready and keen to go on made an early move into the pace and it looked like it wouldn’t matter and Lady Eli would win the first race back. In deep stretch however the pace and maybe the time off and even a little rust took their toll, and Strike Charmer who was dead last most of the way rolled by late. No offense to Strike Charmer, a really nice horse in her own right, but on 99 out of a hundred days she couldn’t warm Lady Eli up. Despite finishing second, it was a great achievement. Just two starts later she found herself in her second Breeders’ Cup race, and was beat a nose by Queen’s Trust who she will face again this year.
Lady Eli comes into the Filly and Mare Turf this year off three straight wins, the last of which was the Ballston Spa again which she won looking every bit on top of her game. Two starts back she shipped out to Santa Anita and ran down an only speed in Avenge, a quality turfer who she will also face again on Saturday. She’s coming in the right way, and looking as good as she ever has. That is quite a training job by Chad Brown.
Overall Lady Eli is 10 for 13 with 3 seconds. Most of those in Grade 1’s of which she is a multiple winner. It’s hard to fathom she doesn’t have an Eclipse already. I once asked Irad Ortiz Jr. her regular rider about her and his reply was simple ” I love her.” Perhaps on Saturday she’ll deliver a knockout blow and leave no margin for error.