On an evening of high stakes and even higher expectations, Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider's Elate left her competition in the dust in a hard-fought scramble to the wire to win the $250,000, Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap June 15 at Churchill Downs.
Elate's win in the Fleur de Lis earned her an automatic berth in the Nov. 2 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
The 9-10 favorite in Saturday's field of six older fillies and mares, Elate broke mid-pack under Jose Ortiz and was quickly boxed in by rivals on the rail in fourth as longshot Skeptic took the lead, with Grade 1 winners She’s a Julie and Blue Prize tracking in second and third.
She’s a Julie and Blue Prize squared off at the top of the stretch as Ortiz guided Elate to the outside of Blue Prize and asked his mare for more.
Rallying late with a final furlong to run, Elate synced up with She's a Julie and Blue Prize and dueled three abreast for precious moments before driving past on the far outside and clearing the leaders to win by 1 ½ lengths.
Final time for the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:50.33 on a dirt track rated as fast.
"It was a very good race," said Ortiz. "I saw Javier (Castellano) had a lot of horse with Blue Prize so I didn't want to make a premature move. Once she saw the clear she just cruised home."
Blue Prize finished second, edging She's a Julie by a head.
"She tried really hard today," said Castellano of Blue Prize. "I'm really satisfied by the way she ran. She fought all the way to the end. I don't want to take anything away from the winner. We hooked up with one of the best horses in the country and fought really hard for second place.”
"Jose got the perfect rail trip and once he straightened her out in the lane she came running late," said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "We thought the added distance makes a bit of difference with her and we like to have a goal to shoot for at the end of the year with the Breeders' Cup Distaff. If she belongs, that's a race to definitely shoot for."
A 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, two-time Grade 1 winner Elate had previously struggled to find her stride in 2019. The mare finished second in her season debut, the March 16 Grade 2 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park, before running third next out in the April 14 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at the Arkansas track.
Elate earned her two Grade 1 wins during her 3-year-old season in 2017 when she took the Alabama Stakes and then went on to defeat older rivals by 8 ¼ lengths in the Beldame Stakes. Despite battling chronic splint issues throughout most of her 15-start career, Elate has been a model of consistency. With the exception of her start in the 2017 Central Bank Ashland Stakes during her sophomore campaign when she was pulled up after taking a bad step, the mare has never finished worse than fourth.
Bred in Kentucky by her owners, Elate is out of the Distorted Humor mare Cheery. She holds a 6-5-2 record and $1,698,775 in purse earnings.