Very good horses are able to overcome adversity to win major races, and it’s safe to say Elate is a very good horse.
The 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro had every excuse to lose the $250,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) on June 15 at Churchill Downs. She broke sluggishly from the gate, then wound up boxed in behind horses, unable to shift out for a clear run while the leaders waltzed along through pedestrian fractions of :25.02, :49.70 and 1:13.85.
Such a tricky trip would have spelled defeat for a lesser mare, but Elate was resilient. After she lost her first two starts of 2019, some handicappers questioned whether the two-time grade 1 winner had lost a step after some time off for a splint bone issue.
But Elate put those notions to rest in the Churchill Downs homestretch. After she shifted wide for a clear run, Elate took aim at dueling leaders Blue Prize and She’s a Julie—both grade 1 winners—and gradually wore them down to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. With a final three furlongs in about :36 1/5, Elate was seemingly just getting started at the end of the 1 1/8-mile distance, which she clocked in 1:50.33.
“It was a very good race,” said winning jockey Jose Ortiz. “I saw (jockey) 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.”
Trained by Bill Mott, Elate’s victory snapped a three-race losing skid and secured her a “Win and You’re In” berth to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Owned and bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Elate boosted her record to six wins from 15 starts, with earnings approaching $1.7 million.
“Jose got the perfect rail trip, and once he straightened her out in the lane, she came running late,” Mott said. “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.”
There were aspects of Elate’s performance that could be improved upon. Her slow start made her task more difficult than it otherwise might have been, and turning for home she was a little awkward straightening out for the drive and subsequently drifted around down the lane.
But given the unfavorable setup she encountered, Elate’s late-running triumph over two classy grade 1 winners was a big step in the right direction. She has reemerged as a contender for the Distaff and figures to make some noise at Saratoga this summer, where she was a convincing winner of the 2017 Alabama Stakes (G1).
The main filly standing between Elate and a championship title is Midnight Bisou, already a four-time graded stakes winner in 2019. Midnight Bisou defeated Elate in both the Azeri Stakes (G2) and Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) earlier this year, but with Elate on the rise, a showdown at Saratoga between these two fantastic females could be among the highlights of the summer racing season.