The previously undefeated daughter of Divine Park made a remarkable recovery from a potentially life-threatening bout with laminitis and even more incredibly returned to training in top form. Her first loss came in a 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa, which was won in stakes record time of 1:38.77.
Courtlandt Farm's homebred Strike Charmer won her first stakes since taking the May 14 Beaugay Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park. She came into the Ballston Spa off two unplaced finishes in grade I stakes—the Longines Just a Game Stakes and the Diana Stakes. Strike Charmer is the first foal and the only stakes winner produced by the stakes-winning Storm Cat daughter Cat Charmer, who Courtlandt also bred and raced.
Ridden by regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Lady Eli was given her usual stalking trip, sitting back in fifth for the first half-mile. Longshot Sympathy took the lead midway through the first turn and took her six challengers through quick fractions of :22.43 and :45.55. Ortiz had moved Lady Eli away from the rail down the backstretch and started pushing her for more through the second turn. She responded and, coming four-wide into the stretch, hooked up with Sentiero Italia. Shoulder-to-shoulder they rolled past the leaders. On the far outside, free and clear, was Strike Charmer and jockey Junior Alvarado who together quickly erased the lead Lady Eli and Sentiero Italia had worked so hard to gain. Lady Eli kept fighting, finishing a half-length ahead of Sentiero Italia.
"I didn't know they'd go that fast early, but we were where we needed to be with the pace being that way," said Mark Hennig, the trainer of Strike Charmer. "When Junior got off of her last time he told me, 'If I get her outside, she really wants to punch.' He said she was making up ground last time and she really wasn't even fully extending herself. He felt like having learned something from riding her once, it would be wise to just kind of sit. We talked in the paddock after watching the Flintshire race and I told him, 'Don't get stuck behind that rabbit because everybody's going to be lined up at the quarter pole thinking they're coming off the rail.' Lady Eli took the overland route, and I thought he did a great job of just kind of hiding out behind her and then trying to pounce. We were fortunate enough to run her down today."
Hennig had plenty of praise for the runner-up.
"It's an amazing story that she's come back from what she had," he said. "Anytime that happens with a horse we all feel it in the industry, when one of our best horses suffers something like that. When horses founder it's such a struggle and it's a great story that she did make it back, but we don't mind raining on her parade today."
Lady Eli's trainer Chad Brown said he was disappointed at the loss but happy to have his star, the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) and 2015 Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) winner, back in training.
"Irad gave her a little bit of a wide trip but really didn't want to get in trouble with this filly," said Brown. "He said he moved into a pretty strong pace. He didn't want the two other horses in the race, Sentiero Italia and Miss Temple City, to get too far away from him so he moved up on them and felt he had them all measured. He just didn't imagine that horse coming from the back and getting him. That's the way it worked out. We'll build off this race."
Strike Charmer paid $57.50, $9.70, and $5.40. Lady Eli paid $3.20 and $2.50, while Sentiero Italia paid $3.
Owned by Sheep Pond Partners, Lady Eli was diagnosed with laminitis, an often career-ending, and sometimes life-ending, hoof disease, shortly after she won the Belmont Oaks Invitational in July 2015. While walking back to her barn from the test barn, she stepped on a nail that penetrated her left foot.
The nail was extracted, but about a week later, Lady Eli developed laminitis in her right front foot, likely a result of her placing more weight on that hoof. Subsequently, laminitis occurred in her left foot as well. She returned to training last December.