Her career didn't end as her connections and fans would have liked, but at least Lady Eli leaves the racetrack for her next career with an Eclipse Award for championship turf female in tow.
A feel-good story both because of her brilliance as a runner and her perseverance in overcoming a life-threatening bout of laminitis to return to her previous top form, Lady Eli displayed all the traits we admire in a Thoroughbred.
"She overcame everything," said Jay Hanley, who owns Lady Eli with partner Sol Kumin under their Sheep Pond Partners banner. "She is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime animal; an amazing warrior."
Lady Eli (Divine Park—Sacre Coeur, by Saint Ballado) was bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm and Catesby W. Clay and was trained throughout her four-season career by Chad Brown. She made an immediate splash with her perfect 2-year-old campaign, in which she won three races, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T). Her sophomore year yielded three more victories in as many tries, but following the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T), Lady Eli stepped on a nail heading back to her barn at Belmont Park and developed life-threatening laminitis. Incredibly, not only did she beat the disease but she returned to the races, and at a level every bit as good as she had shown earlier.
The 5-year-old mare began 2017 with a head defeat by Dickinson in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1T) after she had made the lead and perhaps idled just a touch approaching the finish. She rebounded from that by going cross-country and taking the Gamely Stakes (G1T) at Santa Anita Park, outrunning the early speed and then holding off the closers in what was a vintage performance.
She returned east and took the Diana Stakes (G1T) and Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa Stakes (G2T), defeating Dickinson in the latter. The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) proved too much, however, as she lost a shoe a furlong into the race and was bumped severely, suffering cuts and lacerations to her legs. It was the only race in which she did not finish first or second. In her four racing years she earned $719,800, $730,000, $720,000, and $790,000 for a total of $2,959,800.
"I'm proud of her 2017 season, and I believe she was every bit as good as ever last year," noted Brown. "It contained some ups and downs, but she came through once again, tried her best in every start, and showed her grade 1 quality in each effort."
Added Hanley, "She never ceases to amaze those of us who've been around her, with her determination, desire, and willingness to fight back from everything. She showed such heart. Chad, Sol, myself, and our families and friends are so thankful that she's allowed us to go on this journey with her."