11/14/2014 5:30PM

Lady Eli breakout performer for sire Divine Park

Tom Keyser
Lady Eli has emerged as a standout for sire Divine Park.

The fallout from the Breeders’ Cup Classic may have clouded the Horse of the Year picture, but on the undercard, other divisional rankings became much clearer. In the juvenile filly division, the performance of unbeaten Lady Eli in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf could produce an anomaly compared with most years since the Eclipse Awards for both champion juvenile categories are normally granted to dirt horses.

This year’s juvenile filly class lacks a clear-cut leader on dirt, and Lady Eli’s own credentials are redoubtable. Her emergence also elevates the profile of Airdrie Stud stallion Divine Park, a talented Grade 1 winner who had yet to sire a breakout performer during the early stages of his stud career. 

Lady Eli is Divine Park’s first graded stakes winner. The filly has won all three of her starts, each over a different turf course, and brought the new ownership group Sheep Pond Partners to the sport’s biggest stage in meteoric fashion.

Runnymede Farm and Catesby Clay bred Lady Eli in Kentucky, and sold her to Bradley Thoroughbreds at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale for $160,000. Jay Hanley of Sheep Pond bought Lady Eli from agent Eddie Woods for the same amount at the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale before sending her to New York and trainer Chad Brown.

After winning her maiden despite a rough trip at Saratoga and then taking the Grade 3 Miss Grillo at Belmont, Lady Eli displayed a turn of foot at Santa Anita more often associated with European grass horses to win the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf by 2 3/4 lengths. That win boosted her career bankroll to $719,800.

Dirt and turf influences abound in Lady Eli’s pedigree. Her dam, the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur, scored her only win from three starts on dirt at Aqueduct, but she produced Lady Eli’s half-sister Bizzy Caroline, by Afleet Alex, a good middle-distance turf performer who captured two Grade 3s on the Churchill Downs lawn during 2011-2012 and also placed in three other graded stakes during that timespan.

Lady Eli’s second dam, Kazadancoa, by Green Dancer, was bred in France, but produced three U.S. graded stakes winners on dirt, including Grade 2 Schuylerville winner Changing Ways. That filly would go on to become a stakes producer herself as the dam of Pays to Dream, winner of the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes on turf, and two other stakes horses.

Kazadancoa is also the fount of a bloodline that is responsible for Canadian champion Spring in the Air (winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades on Keeneland’s Polytrack in 2012), English Group 1 winner Palace Episode, Irish Group 2 winner and classic-placed Laughing Lashes, and Grade 2 winners Tejano Run and More Royal, the latter a turf stakes winner in both the United States and Europe.

That sort of diverse background in Lady Eli’s female line mixes well with Divine Park. Despite racing primarily on dirt, with two starts on synthetic, Divine Park carries strong turf bona fides through his sire, the late Chester House (by Mr. Prospector, out of Broodmare of the Year Toussaud), who won nearly $2 million racing on grass.

Chester House succumbed to cancer in 2003 while standing only his third season, and his progeny’s subsequent performance on the racetrack only amplified the loss, as he would finish with an eye-popping 13 percent ratio of stakes winners to starters from those three crops. His best were led by Ventura, a Grade 1 winner on turf and synthetic; turf millionaire Spring House; and graded turf winners Warning Zone, Hostess, Take the Ribbon, and Lady Carlock.

“Chester House was an elite stallion, and I think people recognize that,” said Bret Jones of Airdrie Stud in Midway, Ky. “You know, he only had three crops, and we lost him far too young, but he had Divine Park, and had a Breeders’ Cup winner [Ventura], and was on his way to being a really exceptional stallion. When we had the opportunity to stand what we thought was his best son, we jumped at it.”

Divine Park’s female line, conversely, is primarily dirt-oriented, as his dam, High in the Park, notched all three of her wins on the main track (although broodmare sire Ascot Knight, by Danzig, raced exclusively on turf in England and Ireland and was a versatile sire in Canada for many years).  Second dam Czar’s Princess was a half-sister to top-class dirt Grade 1-winning fillies Imperial Gesture and Sardula, all out of the Hoist the Flag mare Honor an Offer.

Bred by Runnymeade and Catesby Clay, Divine Park was bought for only $20,000 by owner James Barry as a Keeneland September yearling. Racing for Barry and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Divine Park won his first three starts at 3, setting a track record of 1:21.17 for seven furlongs on Keeneland’s then-Polytrack main track in his second start, and culminating with a win in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct.

An injury to his left hind kept Divine Park on the sidelines for several months, but the horse achieved peak form during spring 2008, fashioning another three-race winning streak that ended with a two-length score over Commentator in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.

Stud plans for Divine Park were announced shortly following that prestigious win, and he was retired after one more start to Brereton and Libby Jones’s Airdrie Stud for the 2009 breeding season with six wins from nine starts and $612,935 in earnings.

“We bought Divine Park a month before the stock market crashed in 2008,” Bret Jones said, “and we made a strong investment in him because we really believed in him. We had planned to stand him at $17,500, and we thought he was very worthy, but when the stock market crashed and the world changed a little bit, we probably should have lowered that number, but we left it the same.

“Because of that, he didn’t get as big a book of mares as we normally get with a first-year stallion – I think he only bred 70 mares that first year,” Jones added. “We always thought he was capable of throwing a special horse, and now he has.”

Divine Park remained in the range of 50 to 70 mares per year from 2010-13 but had a smaller book in 2014. That situation is likely to be reversed, as Lady Eli’s ascension into a divisional championship candidate should motivate breeders to take a fresh look at the stallion. Airdrie has kept his 2015 fee at $7,500.

Many of Divine Park’s best runners to date aside from Lady Eli have been “Jones/Jones” productions – that is, bred and/or owned by the Jones family and trained by Larry Jones. One to watch is Divine Dawn, a juvenile filly bred by Brereton Jones and sold to Tommy Ligon and Michael Pressley for $50,000 last year at the Keeneland September yearling sale. Trained by Larry Jones, Divine Dawn won her maiden first out at Keeneland in October and is nominated to the Grade 3 Delta Princess Stakes this Saturday.