11/01/2017 5:56PM

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf: Victory would make Lady a champ


DEL MAR, Calif. – A year after Lady Eli fell a nose shy of writing a fairy-tale ending to her remarkable comeback story, she gets a chance to flip the script in Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar.

Seemingly at the top of her game, Lady Eli will be favored to win the race that eluded her last year and clinch an Eclipse Award that has eluded her for her entire career.

“I don’t think there’s a horse on the entire card this weekend that deserves an Eclipse Award more than her,” Chad Brown, Lady Eli’s trainer, said Wednesday.

Lady Eli, 5, has become one of the most popular horses in training after she overcame a bout with the often-deadly disease laminitis. She appeared on her way to winning last year’s Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita but was just outfinished by Queen’s Trust.

“I thought she ran a terrific race last year,” Brown said. “Queen’s Trust just found a little bit more from a great ride from Frankie [Dettori]. Hopefully, we can work out a good trip from that post. Based on the way she’s training, I think she’ll bring her best.”

Lady Eli was assigned post 9 in a race that drew 16 but will be limited to 14 starters and begins out of an infield chute. It will also be run at 1 1/8 miles, shorter than in years past.

Lady Eli, 3 for 3 at 1 1/8 miles, has proven adaptable to most any pace scenario. In last year’s Filly and Mare Turf, she sat in 10th behind what was a very fast pace. This year, there doesn’t seem to be as much pace outside of the California-based filly Avenge.

In May, Lady Eli came to California for the Grade 1 Gamely at Santa Anita. Avenge was the lone speed that day, but Irad Ortiz Jr. had Lady Eli within a length of her early on.

“If she breaks well and puts herself in close range, I’m just fine with that,” Brown said.

Trainer Richard Mandella likes the 1 1/8 miles for Avenge, third in last year’s Filly and Mare Turf. However, noting Lady Eli has beaten Avenge twice, Mandella said, “The [choice] of Lady Eli or a mile and a quarter, I’d rather just get rid of Lady Eli.”

Avenge, who drew post 12 and will be ridden by Flavien Prat, comes off a win in the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive on Sept. 30 at Santa Anita, a race in which she sat second early on.

“Last time she settled in second nicely so she can do that, but it looks like the lead should be hers,” Mandella said.

Two of the top threats to Lady Eli come from her own barn. Dacita won the Grade 1 Beverly D. earlier this year and was beaten a head in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl over a course labeled firm but one that had taken rain earlier in the day. Grand Jete dead-heated for second in the Beverly D. with a tough inside trip and was second in the Flower Bowl after racing on the lead, which is not her style.

“Dacita is very accomplished in her own right. She’s won some really big races for us, she always shows up,” Brown said. “Grand Jete is a horse that keeps improving. She’s had two really bad trips in a row. If she works out a good trip this time, she can be right there.”

Queen’s Trust had lost her first five starts of 2016 before winning this race. She has lost her first five starts of this year and will look to repeat the pattern Saturday. Queen’s Trust prefers firm ground, and only got that once in Europe, when she was beaten two lengths in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes against males at Royal Ascot.

“Every time we prepped her she was training well, the ground was on the loose side,” said James Savage, assistant to trainer Michael Stoute. “She just needs that faster surface and she loves to come off a fast pace, so it was no surprise she won the Breeders’ Cup. Everything fell right for her, and we’re expecting a big show on fast ground Saturday.”

Aidan O’Brien, winless with 10 starters in eight runnings of the Filly and Mare Turf, sends out Rhododendron, winner of the Group 1, 10-furlong Prix de l’Opera on Oct. 1 at Chantilly. The cutback to 1 1/8 miles and having drawn post 14 could be compromising.

O’Brien pointed out that in May, Rhododendron ran second to his highly regarded filly Winter in the 1000 English Guineas going a mile.

“Ryan [Moore] didn’t feel she was finished at the line that day,” O’Brien said.

Nezwaah and Wuheida are others from Europe in with a chance. Cambodia went 2 for 2 at Del Mar during the summer, including a victory in the Grade 2 John C. Mabee at 1 1/8 miles.

War Flag, Senga, Birdie Gold, Zipessa, and Goodyearforroses complete the field in the body of race. Kitten’s Roar and Responsibleforlove are on the also-eligible list and would have needed a scratch by 8 a.m. local time Friday in order to draw into the race.