07/22/2017 8:15PM

Lady Eli shakes off gate episode, takes Diana Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lady Eli (outside) returned $3.90 as the favorite in the Diana on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Chad Brown watched in dismay as his two fillies, Antonoe and Lady Eli, both broke through the starting gate prior to the official start of Saturday’s Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga.

“Wasn’t feeling well,” Brown said. “It’s never a good sign. You walk through the grandstand and talk to the people that wager their money every day and they’ll tell you that most of the time when that happens they don’t win.”

Most of the time, people aren’t wagering on horses the caliber of Lady Eli.

Despite the episode at the gate and despite conceding eight pounds to the front-running Quidura, Lady Eli, fifth of six early on, ran down Quidura in deep stretch to win the $500,000 Diana by a head before a crowd of 32,547 at the Spa. Quidura was second by a length over Antonoe, who had to take up nearing the wire. Harmonize, Dickinson and My Impression completed the order of finish.

The victory was one of four wins on Saturday's card for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., and one of three for Brown.

The result wasn’t made official until the stewards conducted an inquiry into the stretch run. In the stretch, Lady Eli, widest of three, got right alongside Quidura, who came over slightly and took some room away from Antonoe, who took up under Javier Castellano.

Despite saying afterward he felt the incident cost his filly the race, Castellano did not claim foul. The stewards let the result stand.

Ortiz said he got close to Quidura, but said his filly never touched that horse. Junior Alvarado, Quidura's rider, said that Lady Eli “was right on top of me.”

Brown, who trains Antonoe for Juddmonte Farms, said “Antonoe is quite a big horse and if any horse is going to go inside and potentially have some trouble, it’s her. She would need plenty of room as big as she is. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there for her.”

For Brown, there was just a sense of relief that Lady Eli was able to get up and win her ninth race from 12 starts and her fifth Grade 1.

“I think today she proved she is one of the all-time greats,” Brown said. “Just her determination, she didn’t hang there at the end. She always [drives] past another horse as long as she can see them.”

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On paper, there didn’t appear to be much pace in the Diana. Alvarado said Quidura broke sharp and, when no one else wanted the lead, he took it. She maintained a measured advantage over Dickinson through a quarter-mile in 23.59 seconds, a half in 47.51, and six furlongs in 1:11.46.

Ortiz had Lady Eli in fifth position, within five lengths of the lead.

Ortiz guided Lady Eli four wide around the turn and she advanced quickly into contention by the top of the stretch. Quidura, however, was still going strong while Dickinson retreated. Ortiz was just waving the whip at Lady Eli and at the eighth pole it appeared they made light contact.

Lady Eli and Quidura kept charging to the wire but it was Lady Eli, the 123-pound highweight, who got her head on the wire first.

Lady Eli, a 5-year-old daughter of Divine Park owned by Sheep Pond Partners of Jay Hanley and Sol Kumin, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.17 and returned $3.90 as the 4-5 favorite.

“The fractions were solid enough. I know this horse on the lead is a real quality horse,” Brown said. “What I liked about it was along back there. I was confident at least that Irad could give her clear run in the stretch. That’s all I asked him in the paddock, is just get in the clear and I’m confident she can get there, and she did.”

Graham Motion, Quidura's trainer, said it wasn’t the plan for his filly to go to the lead, but he said he couldn’t fault Alvarado for doing it.

“I don’t think that’s how she wants to run, but she ran awesome,” Motion said. “We got a lot of weight from those fillies but she ran awfully game. That was tough.”

Lady Eli will likely have two more races in her career. The next will be the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont Park on Oct. 8 before her final race, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 4. After that, Kumin said, Lady Eli will likely be sold at auction.