Lady Eli Ruthless in Flower Bowl

Lady Eli

By Claire Novak, courtesy of Blood-Horse

There was no mistaking Lady Eli's will to win the $500,000 Flower Bowl Stakes (gr. IT) Oct. 8 at Belmont Park.

Ranging up alongside pacesetter Sentiero Italia off the final turn, the gritty filly pinned her ears and dug deep with every stride, edging past in the final sixteenth to secure her third grade I by three-quarters of a length and punching her ticket to the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).

The race marked Lady Eli's first return to top-level company since July 2015; she launched her comeback off a long layoff Aug. 27 at Saratoga Race Course with a runner-up finish in the Ballston Spa (gr. IIT) after stepping on a nail and suffering laminitis following her July 4 Belmont Oaks Invitational (gr. IT) win last year.

Trainer Chad Brown has credited the fighting spirit of Sheep Pond Partners' 4-year-old daughter of Divine Park with her remarkable recovery. She has now won three grade I events; she also won the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT).

"It'll be her third race off the layoff, she has a mile-and-a-quarter race under her belt now," Brown said of the Breeders' Cup return. "She has a very good chance of getting the firm turf that she loves out at Santa Anita. She has a win out there already, although they have a new turf course, but I'm sure it's similar. If anything else, she's comfortable with the environment and shipping out there, so I'm excited to bring her into the Breeders' Cup.

"There were a lot of different scenarios, some extremely scary, and the best case was we'd be back heading to the Breeders' Cup race as one of the favorites, and here we are. It couldn't happen to a more deserving horse, for her to overcome all this."

Lady Eli completed 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.85 under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., and returned $3.70, $2.70, and $2.10 as the 4-5 choice in a six-horse field.

"I got a good trip," Ortiz said. "We broke out of there and Senterio Italia had some speed so we sat right off of them. Then Pletcher's filly (Itsonlyactingdad) showed some speed today, so we sat and I tried to wait as long as I could. I could have saved a little more ground but that's the way the trip was coming out and it worked out good for us. She was ready today."

Bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm and Catesby W. Clay out of the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur, Lady Eli improved her record to seven wins and a second from eight starts for earnings of $1,829,800.

Sentiero Italia held for second and Sea Calisi was third, followed home by Strike Charmer, Itsonlyactingdad, and Ame Bleue.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Sentiero Italia could also run in the Breeders' Cup.

"We'll see," he remarked. "The (Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf) is very possible. I'll talk to the Godolphin people."

Watch the 2016 Flower Bowl replay: