Saratoga: Undefeated filly returning after 13-month layoff

In her much-anticipated return to the track, Lady Eli, trained by Chad Brown, is even-money on the m
Lady Eli cools off at trainer Chad Brown's barn on Thursday morning. After a 13-month layoff, the undefeated filly will be back racing on Saturday, in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga Race Course.
Lady Eli cools off at trainer Chad Brown's barn on Thursday morning. After a 13-month layoff, the undefeated filly will be back racing on Saturday, in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga Race Course.

Sol Kumin is part of owner of a pretty good turf filly named Tammy the Torpedo.

Trained by Chad Brown, she broke her maiden by 3 1⁄4 lengths at Saratoga Race Course two years ago, then was recognized by the Thoroughbred Daily News in its Rising Stars feature.

For Kumin, a former lacrosse player at Johns Hopkins who runs a hedge fund firm, this was pretty heady stuff, considering he had just entered the world of thoroughbred ownership.

“We’re like, ‘Holy smokes, this is awesome,’ ” he said on Thursday morning. “Chad looked over at us and said, ‘Listen, you have one in the barn that will rip her head off.’

“So we said, ‘Huh, really, how good could this horse be?’ ”

How about Breeders’ Cup good?

How about undefeated good?

Brown, who is in position to break Todd Pletcher’s meet record for wins at Saratoga, has a whopping 17 horses entered on Saturday — most of them live shots to win — for the blockbuster Travers card, including three in the big race. Immediately after the Travers, though, he’ll saddle Lady Eli for the Ballston Spa to bring one of the most intriguing stories It;s been a long road backin racing full circle.

Lady Eli, who broke her maiden at Saratoga eight days after Tammy the Torpedo did, hasn’t lost in six career starts. She also hasn’t raced in over 13 months because of a variety of health issues, including laminitis, the hoof inflammation that sometimes can be fatal.

In her much-anticipated return to the track, Lady Eli, owned by Sheep Pond Partners, is even-money on the morning line and will try to pick up where she left off on the Fourth of July in 2015, when she won the Grade I Belmont Oaks.

“I’m excited to run her,” Brown said on Thursday morning. “Of course, I’m a little nervous, because we’re having to contend with an over-a-year layoff now and coming back from laminitis and running against some fillies that are in form right now and fit. So that part of it makes me nervous, but I don’t really see any other options that make sense for her.

“It’s a strong race. It’s no walkover. With that purse and being on Travers Day, we didn’t expect it to be. My horse is training great, she’s 6-for-6, I’m not going to run her in an allowance race. It’s a tall order, but she’s a special horse.”

“Oh, man, I’m nervous, I’m excited,” Kumin said. “I feel like I’ve been waiting forever. It’s been a long road to get here. It’s a big mix of emotions, from wondering if she’ll ever come back, is she going to make it, is she ever going to be able to run at the same quality . . . all that stuff.”

It has been an eventful meet for the Mechanicville native Brown. He reached career win No. 1,000 on Wednesday and, with 31 victories at the meet, is threatening Pletcher’s record of 38 set in 2011. The 38-year-old Brown has finished second to Pletcher in the standings the last five years.

He has won more than his share of photo finishes at this meet, but his barn is firing every time out, and Brown is poised to have a huge day on Saturday.

In a span of an hour and a half, he’ll run 1-5 Flintshire, one of the best turf horses in the world, in the Grade I Sword Dancer, then he has Connect, Gift Box and My Man Sam in the $1.25 million Travers before Lady Eli runs. Brown also has Wavell Avenue in the Grade I Ballerina and Economic Model in the Grade I King’s Bishop.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing since day one of the meet,” Brown said. “Take a day at a time, stay focused, try to run our horses where they fit best and hope for some racing luck.

“We were ahead by four winners with only one week to go [last year], and I didn’t really feel good about the final week in the [condition] book. I didn’t see a lot of horses of mine that fit. We just ran out of ammo. This year, I feel that we still have some really nice horses to run. They still have to make it to the winner’s circle, and there are no easy spots up here.”

“We run a hedge fund, and our people work pretty hard, and he works as hard as anyone I’ve seen in any business,” said Kumin, who owns part of My Man Sam as well as Preakness winner Exaggerator, the 3-1 Travers favorite trained by Keith Desormeaux.

“The thing I love about Chad is he doesn’t like to lose, period. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a $30,000 claimer or a Grade I on Travers Day. He’s watching that race the same way, he’s banging the table when he loses a photo or wins it. That will to win will always persevere with him.”

Lady Eli’s saga began when she stepped on a nail on her way back to the barn after winning the Belmont Oaks.

The injury itself, to her left front foot, wasn’t serious, but she developed laminitis in her right hoof a week later, then it showed up in her left, too.

Before the summer was over, she had already shown good signs of recovery, but uncertainty over her racing future remained.

Brown was patient and took his time, and that has paid off now that she not only can race again, but appears to be just as brilliant as she had been 13 months ago.

“Her last handful of workouts have been outstanding,” Brown said.

“It took until the last year for me to understand the sport a little bit better, to understand what a special filly that she really is in the context of the sport and history and what’s going to happen here on Saturday,” Kumin said.

“I will be excited and nervous for the Travers, as well, but nothing like this. You get nervous, you get butterflies when they go in the gate. You win some, and you lose a lot more than you win, right? This is one that is not going to be easy. There’s going to be a lot of emotion, and we’re going to be super, super nervous until she crosses the finish line. Hopefully, in a good place, but if not, as long as she’s healthy, that’s all that matters.”

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