11/02/2017 11:20AM

Runnymede Farm hoping to make more history in Breeders' Cup

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lady Eli is a granddaughter of Runnymede Farm foundation mare Kazadancoa.

Brush off dusty tomes of Thoroughbred racing history, or flip to a current chapter, and you’ll find Runnymede Farm on nearly every page.

The Thoroughbred nursery is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year – making it the oldest continuously operated Thoroughbred farm in Kentucky, according to the historic preservation group Daughters of the American Revolution. Runnymede is looking to celebrate in style Saturday at the Breeders’ Cup with two horses it bred and raised – multiple Grade 1 winner Lady Eli, and Collected, who defeated Arrogate in the Pacific Classic.

The success is even more noteworthy because Runnymede raises an average of two dozen foals per year – a fraction of the number of foals raised by some farms.

“We haven’t come down from the clouds,” farm vice president and general manager Romain Malhouitre said.

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Runnymede was founded in 1867 by Col. Ezekiel Clay, whose father was congressman and pro-slavery Unionist Brutus Clay, and whose uncle was emancipationist Cassius Clay. Brutus Clay forbid his son from joining the Confederate army – which he promptly did anyway. When the war was over, Brutus helped Ezekiel buy a plot of land formerly owned by Kentucky’s second governor, James Garrard, and it was named Runnymede for the location in England where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. The farm is under the stewardship of Ezekiel Clay’s great-grandson Brutus Clay III, who took over the reins from father Catesby W. Clay in 2009. Catesby Clay, 94, continues to serve as the farm’s chairman.

Runners bred or raised by Runnymede have played a major role in American racing history, including the Hall of Famer, 1887 Belmont winner, and prominent sire Hanover. Other noteworthy Runnymede products include 1896 Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Famer Ben Brush, fellow Hall of Famers Miss Woodford and Roamer, Derby winners Agile (1905) and Count Turf (1951), Preakness winner Buddhist (1889), Belmont winner Sir Dixon (1888), and 1973 Wood Memorial winner Angle Light, who infamously upset Secretariat and Sham. In more recent years, runners turned out by the farm include Royal Ascot winner Undrafted, Metropolitan Handicap winner Divine Park, and Grade 1/Group 1 winners Agnes Digital, Awesome Gem, Jaycito, and Marylebone.

Lady Eli is a granddaughter of Runnymede foundation mare Kazadancoa, purchased by Catesby Clay in 1981. In addition to Lady Eli and her graded stakes-winning half-sister Bizzy Caroline, her family is responsible for Canadian champion Spring in the Air, Grade 1/Group 1 winners Palace Episode and Sweet Loretta, and graded/group stakes winners Changing Ways, Jacodra, Jacodra’s Devil, and Tejano Run, who was second in the 1995 Kentucky Derby.

Lady Eli’s fighting spirit has become her trademark both on the track and off, as she survived a bout with laminitis to return to competition. That indomitable will is a family trait. The ornery Kazadancoa gave her strong personality to her winning daughter Sacre Coeur, and to multiple Grade 3 winner Bizzy Caroline, campaigned by Runnymede.

“Sacre Coeur has a mind of her own – she is just strong willed,” Brutus Clay said. “Bizzy Caroline can be a handful. She can be really tough and difficult with her handlers.”

Lady Eli, the product of a mating between Divine Park and Sacre Coeur, was a $160,000 purchase by Sheep Pond Partners at the 2014 Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training.

“She was a very forward filly,” Brutus Clay said. “When prepping her class of yearlings, she was our best walker and very well balanced. She was the alpha in the field, but pretty straightforward to work with in the barn.”

Never worse than second, Lady Eli won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf as a 2-year-old and has been a Grade 1 winner in each of her four campaigns. Collected was slower to develop. The son of City Zip was a Grade 3 winner early in his 3-year-old campaign before finishing 10th in the 2016 Preakness. He returned to win all four of his starts this year, holding Arrogate off by a half-length in the Pacific Classic.

Runnymede owned and bred Collected’s dam, the winning Johannesburg mare Helena Bay, and bred Collected in partnership with Peter Callahan. The colt was a $150,000 purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale by SGV Thoroughbreds, which subsequently sold him for $170,000 to Speedway Stables at the OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training.

“Collected wasn’t the biggest colt on the farm, but mentally he was very well balanced,” Malhouitre recalled. “He really started getting confidence once we started [sales] prep. He discovered himself.”

After Lady Eli and Collected look to add additional pages to Runnymede’s already hefty history book, others will get a chance to continue writing that story. Lady Eli is cataloged at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

Meanwhile, back home in the fields at Runnymede are weanlings including Sacre Coeur’s American Pharoah filly, Bizzy Caroline’s Uncle Mo filly, and a Hard Spun colt out of Helena Bay. Both Helena Bay and Sacre Coeur were bred to American Pharaoah this year.

“In our minds, we see the foal from the time it first tries to stand, to galloping in the paddock at the dam’s side, to growing up and gamboling in the fields with fellow youngsters, to looking like a champion in the sale ring, to winning for the first time and then to capturing the biggest races of the world,” Malhouitre wrote in a blog post describing the emotion of foaling season.

“As we daydream, the foal starts to get up, wobbling on unsteady legs before crashing back down in the straw. We laugh and get back to reality. This road will be a long one. But this is the beginning and our emotions are high; we can’t wait to raise this young horse which, in our eyes, is the most stunning being on earth. . . . Nobody can take this most special moment and experience away from us; at this time anything and everything seems possible.”