01/05/2018 1:16PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Lady Eli

Barbara D. Livingston
Lady Eli

She was tough. She persevered. She won major races. Lady Eli was herself in 2017.

The highlight of her 5-year-old year came at Saratoga when Lady Eli encountered trouble running in two graded stakes in July and August at Saratoga – and still won them both.

To an extent, bad luck caught up with Lady Eli in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 4. She was bumped in the first furlong, lost a shoe along the way, and sustained cuts on her hind legs. Lady Eli finished seventh, beaten only 3 3/4 lengths by the winning European shipper Wuheida. With a clean trip, Lady Eli perhaps could have won the Breeers’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2017, after having finished second by a nose in the same race at Santa Anita in 2016.

For her 2017 season, Lady Eli has been recognized as a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding turf female.

“I haven’t seen a turf mare this season in America that’s performed better than her,” trainer Chad Brown said after the Breeders’ Cup.

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Lady Eli had five starts in 2017, beginning and ending the year with losses. She raced in traffic on both turns and was second by a head to Dickinson in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in April. At Santa Anita in late May, Lady Eli won the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes by a half-length over Goodyearforroses.

Lady Eli was brilliant at Saratoga. On July 22, Lady Eli won the Grade 1 Diana Stakes by a head over Quidura despite stumbling at the start. Lady Eli did not have much better luck in the running of the Grade 2 Ballston Spa Stakes there on Aug. 26, waiting in traffic in early stretch before unleashing a rally that carried her to the front in the final sixteenth. Lady Eli won the Ballston Spa by 1 1/2 lengths over Dickinson for her ninth stakes win.

“She’s amazing,” Brown said after the race. “We got a good race into her again and, most important, all the fans at Saratoga got to see her race here one more time.”

Bred by Runnymede Farm and Catesby W. Clay, Lady Eli was bought for $160,000 as a 2-year-old at the Keeneland April sale by the Sheep Pond Partners of Sol Kumin and Jay Hanley. She is by Divine Park out of the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur.

After the Breeders’ Cup, Lady Eli was withdrawn from the Keeneland November sale because of the cuts she sustained in the Filly and Mare Turf, which may have been her final start.

If so, Lady Eli had a remarkable career, winning 10 of 14 starts with earnings of $2,959,800. Four of those wins – three in Grade 1 stakes – came after she fought through laminitis in 2015 and didn’t race for almost 14 months. The courage Lady Eli showed made her one of the most popular horses in the country.

Count Brown as her biggest fan.

“She’s really a horse of a lifetime with everything she’s overcome and her natural ability, which is remarkable,” Brown said after the Ballston Spa.

“She’s just a rare, rare horse.”