Lady Eli All Heart In Thrilling Diana Victory

Sheep Pond Partners' Lady Eli laid her heart on the line this Saturday, showing every ounce of her courage to defeat Quidura by a head in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes. The 5-year-old daughter of Divine Park, who battled through laminitis to return to Grade 1-winning glory, covered nine furlongs over Saratoga's firm turf in 1:46.17 under Irad Ortiz, Jr., giving the jockey a graded stakes double and his fourth win on the card. The Chad Brown trainee made the Diana her fifth Grade 1 victory.

Before the start of the race, Antonoe broke through the starting gate and galloped off down the stretch for about a sixteenth of a mile before jockey Javier Castellano could get her pulled up. Lady Eli's barrier also opened, but she was restrained by the assistant starter and only walked out of the box.

Re-loaded into the starting gate, the field of six fillies and mares broke on fairly even terms, with Quidura taking command headed into the first turn. She was immediately followed by Dickinson, My Impression and Antonoe, with Lady Eli shuffled back to fifth position as Ortiz pulled her off heels in the early going. Through fractions of :23.59 and :47.51, Quidura held a 3/4-length advantage over Dickinson.

Ortiz waited a long time to move with Lady Eli, finally electing to go three-wide around the last part of the far turn to challenge the still-leading Quidura, far from quitting. Dickinson was between them but quickly dropped out of it, but Antonoe found a seam up the inside rail and appeared poised to threaten the leader along with her stablemate Lady Eli.

Lady Eli appeared to move toward the rail, toward Quidura, in the final eighth of a mile, and eventually Quidura shut off Antonoe's path at the rail, causing Castellano to take up sharply at the three-sixteenths pole. Lady Eli ran valiantly, however, and was just able to get her head in front of Quidura at the line for the victory. Antonoe had to settle for third, and Harmonize was fourth.

A stewards' inquiry into the stretch run resulted in no change.

Bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm Inc. and Catesby W. Clay, Lady Eli was a $160,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland September, and commanded the same amount as a juvenile at Keeneland's April 2-year-old sale. In her first two seasons of racing, the mare garnered Grade 1 wins in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Belmont Oaks, before she fell victim to a severe case of laminitis.

Diligent efforts of many on trainer Chad Brown's team helped Lady Eli make her way back to the races, and she returned to score in the G1 Flower Bowl and, last out, the G1 Gamely Stakes. Overall, Lady Eli has won nine of her twelve starts, never running worse than second, and earned more than $2.7 million.

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