10/08/2016 4:31PM

Lady Eli gets ovation after winning Flower Bowl


ELMONT, N.Y. - Chad Brown has won a lot of races at Belmont Park in his decade-long career as a trainer, but he doesn’t recall any of his horses ever getting an ovation in the winner’s circle.
An appreciative, albeit sparse, crowd on an overcast Saturday afternoon at Belmont couldn’t help but applaud Lady Eli, who, 15 months after being diagnosed with the life-threatening hoof disease laminitis, ran down Sentiero Italia to win the Grade1, $500,000 Flower Bowl Stakes by three-quarters of a length.

“This has been my home base the last few years, particularly in the fall with a large stable, and I’ve never had one of my horses get an ovation when they came back to the winner’s circle,” said Brown, who won the previous two Flower Bowls with Stephanie’s Kitten.

Lady Eli certainly deserved the ovation after battling back from her illness, which was the result of her stepping on a nail walking back to her barn after winning the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 4, 2015.

It took dedication by Brown and his staff, as well as podiatrist Bryan Fraley, to get Lady Eli back to the races. She made it back on Aug. 27, but suffered her first career defeat by three-quarters of a length to Strike Charmer in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga.

Brown put some of the blame on himself for using a pacemaker, or rabbit, in the race. Irad Ortiz, Lady Eli’s jockey, blamed himself for perhaps moving a bit too soon into a hot early pace.

Brown did not use a pacemaker on Saturday and Ortiz waited as long as he could before asking his filly to run down Sentiero Italia, who had made the lead through a half-mile in 49.03 seconds, six furlongs in 1:13.73 and a mile in 1:37.03.

“I was three-wide the whole way. I know [Brown] doesn’t like that, but I took a shot and it worked out good for us,” Ortiz said. “She was dragging me the whole way. I felt like I had horse, I just wanted to wait a little longer.”

Sentiero Italia finished second by 1 1/4 lengths over Sea Calisi, also trained by Brown. Strike Charmer finished fourth, followed by Itsonlyactingdad and Ame Bleue.

Lady Eli, owned by Sheep Pond Partners, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.85 and returned $3.70 as the favorite. She is now 7 for 8 in her career.

“I think she’s better than ever,” Brown said. “Takes such a rare horse to overcome what she has and to make it all the way back, center stage at the Breeders’ Cup. I think she’s one of the all-time great turf mares. I do believe that.”

The win in the Flower Bowl earned Lady Eli a fees-paid berth into the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf on Nov. 5. Two years ago, Lady Eli won the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita.

Brown said he also plans to send Sea Calisi to the Filly and Mare Turf. She hadn’t run since winning the Beverly D on Aug. 13 and may have flattened out a bit in the stretch.

“I think this race will do her real good, I look forward to running Sea Calisi back in four weeks,” Brown said.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Sentiero Italia would also be considered for the Filly and Mare Turf.

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