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Thanksgiving: Our Cup Overflows

     Each and every Thanksgiving offers a special opportunity to reflect on blessings, and this year we are fortunate to have so very many to cherish.

     For the first time in the history of Runnymede, we celebrated a victory at the Breeders’ Cup when two-year-old filly Lady Eli burst through a seam at the rail and triumphed in electric style in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

     Not only was Lady Eli bred and raised at the farm, but so were her dam, our prized Sacre Coeur, by Saint Ballado, and her sire, Divine Park, winner of the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) who now stands at Governor and Mrs. Brereton Jones’s Airdrie Stud in Midway, Kentucky.Triumphant: Lady Eli and Irad Ortiz Jr. storm to victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf

     Breeders’ Cup weekend was made unimaginably sweeter when another Runnymede-bred, -raised and -sold runner, Undrafted, closed with a mighty rush to take third in a tight finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) on the following day.

      Runnymede President Brutus Clay and his wife, Sarah, were on hand to cheer for Lady Eli and Undrafted, and were able to meet Lady Eli’s owners, the Sheep Pond Partners, and join them for some unforgettable moments in the winner’s circle.

     As often is the case with superb racehorses, the entire story of Lady Eli is magical. Born on February 2, 2012, she was one of those foals who immediately seemed special. A big filly who was bold and fearless in the paddock, she often led her group of fieldmates as they gamboled through their youth.

     When we took her to Keeneland, she handled herself like a professional, posing regally for photographs while standing on a long shank. Bloodstock agent Pete Bradley recognized her class and bought her for $160,000.

      From what we have heard, Lady Eli proved to be one of the toughest horses that veteran horseman and juvenile consignor Eddie Woods has ever worked with at his training center in Ocala. When she went to the Keeneland April sale, she got looks from some of the savviest horsemen in North America, but some were fearful because she seemed awfully tough to handle.Lady Eli in the Breeders' Cup winner's circle

     Jay Henley ended up with the bargain of the sale when the homebuilder purchased the filly for $160,000. He joined with Sol Kumin in ownership of the filly under the Sheep Pond banner, which they took after the name of the Nantucket road on which Kumin and his wife, Elizabeth, live; Henley built the Kumins’ home there.

     The group chose the name Lady Eli for the filly in honor of Elizabeth Kumin. Trainer Chad Brown was selected to train the filly and quickly became impressed with his charge. Brown found in Lady Eli those special qualities we had witnessed at the farm, and when he worked her on the grass the first time, he was amazed.

     “I thought she was the best two-year-old grass filly I’ve ever trained off that breeze. And it’s proven to be true,” Brown reflected.

     While tough to break to saddle, Lady Eli has proved to be rate-able and responsive to brilliant young jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who has ridden her in all three of her races. In her first start, she was blocked in the stretch and bumped, but exploded when she had room to maneuver and got to the wire a nose in front.

    In her next start, she waited patiently for Ortiz’s cue before drawing away with ease to win the 1 1/16-mile Miss Grillo Stakes (G3) by three lengths at Belmont Park, earning her spot in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

    In the one-mile Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita Park, Lady Eli bided her time while stalking the early pace set by Grade 1 winner Sunset Glow and then burst through an opening at the rail when the pacesetter drifted out, quickly leaving her 12 rivals behind.

     Lady Eli and Ortiz cruised to the wire, with the jockey flourishing his whip as they crossed into the record books with a 2 ¾-length victory in the fastest time recorded for the race, 1:33.41—a remarkable 1.38 faster than Royal Ascot stakes winner Hootenany had clocked when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) for males on the same program.As a foal, Lady Eli was always special to us at Runnymede

     “She’s ahead of her time, this horse. She trained like a three-year-old all summer, like a horse that’s run 20 times already. She has that much talent,” Brown said. “I'm so proud of her to see her run like this today. We develop these babies from scratch, and I remember the first time I saw her breeze on the turf. It took my breath away. I told (the owners) she was something special and she proved out to be.”

     “I broke through the hole when Sunset Glow came out, and my filly flew right through there. It feels great. It's unbelievable,” exulted Ortiz, who was winning his first Breeders’ Cup trophy.

     With her performance and her undefeated record, Lady Eli thrust herself into discussions about who should be champion juvenile filly for the season. No less than Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who saddled Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Take Charge Brandi for her upset win on dirt, mentioned Lady Eli for the championship honor.

     “It would be different seeing them give that award to a turf filly, but I think she’s earned her way into that conversation,” Lukas said.

     Lady Eli already is a champion for us at Runnymede. Not only is she out of Sacre Coeur, who we retained when we chose not to let her go on a final bid of $285,000 at the 2001 Keeneland July yearling sale, she is a half sister to our multiple graded stakes winner Bizzy Caroline, who also is a member of our broodmare band, and she is a granddaughter of our foundation mare Kazadancoa.

     Lady Eli also is the best runner sired to date by Divine Park, who far exceeded expectations as a racehorse and who we believe has a bright future ahead of him. We sold Divine Park to James Barry for $20,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in 2005, just one of many outstanding racehorses raised on the fields of Runnymede who has delivered big profits to his owners.

      For all of us connected to the farm who were watching on television or who were lucky enough to be at Santa Anita, Lady Eli’s Breeders’ Cup win was the brightest moment of our year, but on the very next day Undrafted gave us almost as many thrills.Undrafted, with John Velazquez up, in the Breeders' Cup post parade

     Selected from our 2011 Keeneland September sale consignment by Gatewood Bell and trained by Wesley Ward, Undrafted has turned out to be a special runner for NFL star Wes Welker, a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.

     A stakes performer in each of his three years of racing, the four-year-old gelding by Purim out of our late mare French Jeannette, by French Deputy, won the Jaipur Invitational Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park in June. He then traveled to England, where he finished a strong fourth over good to soft turf in the Darley July Cup (G1) at Newmarket, less than two lengths behind winner Slade Power and a short head away from third-placed Gregorian while ridden by Frankie Dettori.

     In the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, in which he was partnered by John Velazquez, Undrafted waited far off the early pace set by Reneesgotzip and was still 10th in the field of 14 at the stretch call. The handsome chestnut responded to Velazquez’s urging and flew home, just missing second-placed Ward stablemate No Nay Never by a nose and only a half-length behind winner Bobby’s Kitten. Final time for the about 6 ½ furlongs was a blistering 1:12.73.

     Velazquez, who scored five top three finishes in Breeders’ Cup races, earned the Bill Shoemaker Award as the outstanding jockey of the event.Sarah and Brutus Clay at the Breeders' Cup

     Undrafted’s exploits not only thrilled us, they were celebrated in NFL circles, with Pro Football Talk on noting that Undrafted likely will race on at age five and has proven himself to be one of the best sprinters in North America on turf.

     Thus, in one weekend, we were reminded in the most wonderful ways of everything for which we should and are thankful. Our thanks go out not only to those who have partnered with us or bought horses from us, but most particularly to our staff members who work every day to extend the best care to our horses and this land that has served our family so well since the 1800s.

     We also want to acknowledge and thank our former General Manager Martin O’Dowd, who helped in planning the matings for Lady Eli and Undrafted, as well as so many other great Runnymede-breds over his 27-year tenure, and delivered them as foals and watched over their early development. Martin has been an invaluable part of Runnymede’s recent history and we would not be where we are without his guidance.

     In looking to the future while gazing across our fields frosted with early snows and dotted with more youngsters gamboling across the same hills and paths trod by Lady Eli and Undrafted, we hope and dream that the years to come will be as bright.