Yes, we know it’s a little unusual to award the Performance of the Week to the second-place horse … but Lady Eli is special.
No, Lady Eli did not win Saturday’s Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga. Considering, however, that a few months ago this filly was battling for her life, let alone planning a return to the track, I think we can settle for second place.
Just over a year ago, Lady Eli was one of the best: an undefeated filly, she had a perfect record of six wins in six graded starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf as a two-year-old and the Belmont Oaks as a three-year old. This last race proved to be fateful in the most seemingly-random way possible: on the walk back to trainer Chad Brown’s barn following her victory at Belmont, Lady Eli stepped on a nail, injuring her left front foot.
To make matters worse, the filly developed laminitis in both front hooves while healing from the initial injury, and suddenly one of the most promising fillies in American racing was fighting for her life. Fans anxiously awaited updates as Lady Eli, supported by a team of veterinarians and hardworking grooms, battled to regrow new, healthy hoof.
Laminitis could have ended Lady Eli’s life, let alone her career — but as the filly slowly recovered, healthy enough to ship to Kentucky for some layoff time, it started to look like the great undefeated horse would not only survive, but perhaps even race again.
Lady Eli returned to work, putting in solid workouts and by all reports relishing her return to the track. In a seemingly impossible story of triumph, she was entered in Saturday’s Ballston Spa to make her return once and for all.
Unfortunately for those hoping for a true fairy-tale ending, Strike Charmer was the faster horse on this day — but no one was a greater fighter than Lady Eli. Anything is possible in horse racing, and Lady Eli is living proof.
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