04/12/2015 2:45PM

Lady Eli kicks off campaign with Appalachian victory

Coady Photography
Lady Eli wins the Appalachian Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths Sunday at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The first step in what her connections hope is a huge year went precisely according to plan Sunday when Lady Eli remained unbeaten with a 2 1/2-length triumph in the 27th running of the Grade 3, $125,000 Appalachian Stakes on the Keeneland turf.

Sent away the heavy favorite in a field of seven 3-year-old fillies, Lady Eli and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. always had the front-running Sunset Glow in their reach in the one-mile race. By the quarter pole, they were virtually even, and by the furlong pole, Lady Eli had drawn clear without being asked.

“I asked her, she took the lead, and she did it easy,” said Ortiz.

Lady Eli, a Kentucky-bred filly by Divine Park, returned $2.80 to win after finishing in 1:35.80 over a surface rated good.

Miss Temple City, third most of the way, was up in the final jumps to nail a tired Sunset Glow, the 3-1 second choice, for the place. Urtheoneeyelove was another 4 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

Owned by the Sheep Pond Partners, Lady Eli capped her three-race campaign as a 2-year-old with a 2 3/4-length triumph over Sunset Glow in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall at Santa Anita. Given time off afterward, she had prepped strongly with a series of workouts at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida.

“She had given us every indication she was going to come back better and stronger at 3,” said trainer Chad Brown. The Appalachian “went just as you would’ve wanted.”

Brown said Lady Eli will soon return to his main base at Belmont Park, where the main early goal is the $1 million Belmont Oaks on July 4. Brown said a prep in the May 31 Wonder Again at Belmont is possible.

After the top four, the order was Tiger Ride, Mizz Money, and Late Spring.

The $2 exacta (6-2) paid $15.20, the $1 trifecta (6-2-4) returned $17, and the 10-cent superfecta (6-2-4-3) was worth $14.78.