07/10/2015 3:33PM

Sparkman: Lady Eli displays class from an Aga Khan mare

Barbara D. Livingston
Lady Eli, by Divine Park, remained unbeaten with a victory in the Belmont Oaks.

For much of the 20th century, the quickest path to success in American Thoroughbred breeding was to buy a Whitney mare. Mares bred by W.C., H.P., Payne, and C.V. Whitney and their descendants provided the basis for many of the great private and commercial studs of the century, and their descendants included many of the best of the American breed, including Northern Dancer, Halo, Silver Spoon, Quill, Java Gold, Medaglia d’Oro, and Afleet Alex, among many others.

Over the same time frame, the comparable motto in Europe was to buy an Aga Khan mare, and the results were similar. In a sense, the current Aga Khan himself benefited from the practice in 1975 when he purchased a yearling colt by Red God out of Runaway Bride, by Wild Risk. The Aga Khan had bred Runaway Bride but sold her to American businessman John McNamee Sullivan after he had bred another Red God colt, Bayraan, from her, but before Bayraan developed into a Group 3-winning sprinter. Runaway Bride’s second Red God colt was named Blushing Groom, and he developed into France’s champion 2-year-old colt of 1976 and won the French 2000 Guineas equivalent at 3 before becoming one of the great international sires of the 1980s.

The family descending from Runaway Bride’s dam, Aimee, by Tudor Minstrel, has enriched many other breeders worldwide, and her tail-female descendants include champions and/or classic winners Badger’s Drift (South Africa), Encke (England), King Kamehameha (Japan), Shawanda (Ireland), and Zabarella (Italy). Lady Eli, Aimee’s most recent top-class descendant, looked every inch worthy of joining that list with her victory in the Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 4.

Bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm and Catesby W. Clay, Lady Eli is a third-generation descendant of Runaway Bride’s half-sister Khazaeen, by Charlottesville, an unraced mare who produced a good filly in The Dancer, by Green Dancer, who won the 1979 May Hill Stakes and showed her class by running third in the 1980 Group 1 Epsom Oaks. The Dancer produced three stakes winners, and half-sister Beaming Bride, by King Emperor, produced four, including North American Grade 1 winners Alwuhush, by Nureyev, and Husband, by Diesis, but it is The Dancer’s winning full sister Kazadancoa who is the link to Lady Eli. Bred in France by the Aga Khan, Kazadancoa was purchased for just $30,000 by Clay to dissolve a partnership with Jean Marc Valerio at the 1989 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.

Kazadancoa already had produced the Grade 3 winner Jacodra, by Highland Park, but he had not yet revealed his talent at the time of that sale, and she went on to produce the 1995 Grade 3 Santa Anita Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap winner Jacodra’s Devil, by Devil’s Bag, and the 1994 Grade 2 Schuylerville Stakes winner Changing Ways, by Time for a Change, for Runnymede. Changing Ways since has produced the Grade 2 winner Pays to Dream, by High Yield, and the stakes winner Pumpkin Shell, by Lion Heart. Another daughter of Kazadancoa, Royal Run, by Wavering Monarch, is the dam of the Runnymede-bred Grade 2 winner and Kentucky Derby second-place finisher Tejano Run, by Tejano, and the Grade 2 Jersey Derby winner More Royal, by Mt. Livermore, grandam of the Canadian champion Spring in the Air, by Spring At Last, and the English Group 1 winner Palace Episode, by Machiavellian, and third dam of Irish Group 2 winner Laughing Lashes, by Mr. Greeley.

Kazadancoa’s 14th and last foal was the Saint Ballado filly Sacre Coeur, who failed to meet her reserve at a hammer price of $285,000 at the 2001 Keeneland July sale of selected yearlings. Sacre Coeur won the last of her three starts as a 2-year-old for Clay, a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Aqueduct.

Clay retained Sacre Coeur’s fourth foal, Bizzy Caroline, by Afleet Alex, and in his colors, she won 4 of 17 starts, including the 2011 Grade 3 Regret Stakes and 2012 Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap, and earned $347,935.

Lady Eli is Sacre Coeur’s sixth foal. She since has produced a 2-year-old filly named Sacre Caroline, by Blame, who sold for $360,000 to Pegasus Farm and Herve Barjot at the 2014 the Keeneland September yearling sale, and a yearling colt by Ghostzapper.

Bradley Thoroughbreds paid $160,000 for Lady Eli at the 2013 Keeneland September sale and let her go for the same price to Jay Hanley of Sheep Pond Partners at the 2014 Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. The Belmont Oaks Invitational was Lady Eli’s sixth victory in six starts, a spotless record that includes her equally impressive win in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita.

Lady Eli’s sire, Divine Park, also was bred by Runnymede Farm and Clay. By Chester House out of High in the Park, by Ascot Knight, Divine Park sold for $20,000 to Charles Simon as agent for James Barry at the 2005 Keeneland September sale.

Divine Park is the only stakes winner out of his dam, High in the Park, a half-sister to the stakes winner Summer Prince, by Summer Squall, and to the dam of the Queen’s Plate winner T J’s Lucky Moon, by Tejabo. His second dam, Czar’s Princess, by Czaravich, won only a maiden race but is a half-sister to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Sardula, by Storm Cat, and to Grade 1 winner Imperial Gesture, by Langfuhr.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Divine Park did not race at 2 but won the first three of his four starts at 3, culminating with a front-running, 3 1/4-length victory in the 2007 Grade 3 Withers Stakes, running the mile in 1:34.65. After being off the racetrack for eight months, he returned to finish ninth, beaten only 5 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes that December.

Seventh in the Grade 2 General George Handicap in February, Divine Park then captured an optional-claiming race at Aqueduct and the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap at Belmont Park, where he ran a mile in a brilliant 1:32.74, beating Grasshopper by five lengths. Multiple Grade 1 winner Commentator was favored at 1.15-1 in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap a few weeks later, but Divine Park rallied from a few lengths off the pace and ran down the pace-setting favorite to win by two lengths in 1:36.91.

Divine Park ran only once more, finishing sixth, beaten 25 lengths by Curlin, in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes. Retired to Airdrie Stud at an initial stud fee of $17,500, Divine Park has not enhanced the Met Mile’s reputation as a source of top stallions.

A medium-sized, handsome horse who resembles his sire, the Arlington Million winner Chester House, Divine Park sired the stakes winners Dancinginthecircle (out of Allude, by Orientate) and Divine Gift (Lovely Cool, by Indian Charlie) in his first crop and sired Divine Beauty (Ghazo, by Ghazi) in his second. Lady Eli, however, is only his fourth stakes winner from 132 foals in his first three crops and his first graded stakes winner.

Lady Eli is inbred 5x5x6x5 to Northern Dancer, with two of those four crosses deriving from his best son, Nijinsky II, the sire of both Czaravich and Green Dancer, the sire of her second dam, Kazadancoa.

Lady Eli’s form fits in quite well with the form of the best European 3-year-old fillies at around a mile, since Miss Temple City, whom she beat in her first start this year, the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes, finished fourth, beaten only two lengths, in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot a few weeks ago. Lady Eli also had the Epsom Oaks winner Qualify and the multiple Group 3 winner Osaila well behind her in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Outstanding, who was coming off a listed win in Ireland, finished third behind her in the Belmont Oaks.

Lady Eli is easily the best horse sired by Divine Park, but she is yet another illustration of the value of buying mares from the great breeders of the world.

(UPDATE: The racing career of the undefeated 3-year-old filly Lady Eli is uncertain after her connections announced that she has developed laminitis in her front feet. Trainer Chad Brown said Monday that Lady Eli stepped on a nail while walking back from the test barn to her own barn at Belmont Park following her victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks on July 4, injuring her left front foot.)