As Sol Kumin says them out loud, the scant nature of the margins separating Lady Eli from career perfection hits home.
A head, a dirty nose, and three-quarters of a length. Taken together, the combined distance that has gotten the daughter of Divine Park beat in three of her last four starts wouldn't even add up to the eight-foot distance that is the standard measurement from nose to tail.
For a mare that has spent her entire career with the reputation as one of the most talented members of her class, the streak of near misses is an understandable cause for frustration for her camp—that is until another reality sets in.
"Some days you look at it and you say gosh, she's run 10 times in her career, and she's seven for 10 beaten head and a nose and....she should be 10 and 0," said Kumin of Sheep Pond Partners, which owns Lady Eli. "Then there are days when you're like, I'm so lucky she's still running and still healthy and that she still wants to run, which is key.
"We have a lot of horses, but she's the only one where when she runs, I can't sleep the night before and get a pit in my stomach. You want her to run well for her legacy, really. She's the one that got it all started for us."
Since Kumin can't bear to miss any on-track moments Lady Eli has blessed her following with, he is making a 24-hour roundtrip venture to California this weekend to see the 5-year-old mare headline a field of six in the $300,000 Gamely Stakes (G1T) at Santa Anita Park May 27.
The compact number that passed the entry box is a sign of the enduring respect rivals have for the ability the multiple grade 1-winning, death-defying mare possesses. Since making her remarkable return to the races last summer after battling laminitis in both front feet, Lady Eli continues to flaunt top-level form, winning the Flower Bowl Stakes (G1T) last October and getting beat just a nose in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) over the Santa Anita course last November.
That brutal Breeders' Cup loss was followed by an equally oh-so-close head defeat at the hands of Dickinson during Lady Eli's seasonal bow in the April 15 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1T) at Keeneland. While trainer Chad Brown initially spoke of getting the dark bay mare back to New York and showcasing her there, both the timing of the Gamely and its 1 1/8-mile distance swayed her connections to use that test as a steppingstone toward her summer campaign.
"We were a little nervous about the ship frankly, because it was like, are we asking too much?," Kumin said. "With her, obviously the goal for the year is to try and win the Breeders' Cup and the two other races that are important to Chad, the Flower Bowl and the (grade 1) Diana. So we felt like this was good spacing. She's ready to run, it looks like a pretty good spot with a good distance and if she comes out of it we'll have 6-7 weeks to the next one."
Bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm and Catesby W. Clay, Lady Eli owns a victory at Santa Anita where she captured the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T).
Santa Anita is also home to the mare that figures to be Lady Eli's toughest challenger in the Gamely. Richard Mandella trained-Avenge is set to make her seasonal bow in what will be her first outing since a third-place finish in the Filly & Mare Turf where she was just a length behind Lady Eli and race-winner Queen's Trust.
The 5-year-old daughter of War Front came into her own in the second half of last year, reeling off a three-race win streak that featured victories in the John C. Mabee Stakes (G2T) at Del Mar and the Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1T) at Santa Anita last October 1.
Goodyearforroses captured the March 12 Santa Ana Stakes (G2T) over the same course and distance as the Gamely and was most recently fifth in the Jenny Wiley. The Richard Baltas trainee will be joined in the gate by stablemate and fellow graded stakes winner Mokat while Pretty Girl and September Stars round out the field.
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, May 27, 2017, Race 5
- 1 1/8m
- 3 yo's & up Fillies and Mares
- 3:03 PM (local)
|1||1Avenge (KY)||Flavien Prat||124||Richard E. Mandella||2/1|
|98||2September Stars (IRE)||SCRATCHED||0||UNKNOWN||-|
|2||3Pretty Girl (ARG)||Mike E. Smith||122||Paulo H. Lobo||12/1|
|3||4Goodyearforroses (IRE)||Corey S. Nakatani||122||Richard Baltas||4/1|
|4||5Mokat (KY)||Rafael Bejarano||122||Richard Baltas||8/1|
|5||6Lady Eli (KY)||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||124||Chad C. Brown||4/5|