Lady Eli ends skid with win in Grade 1 Gamely at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Cupid won the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita by 3 1/4 lengths in an upset Saturday, giving trainer Bob Baffert a sixth career victory in the Grade 1 race.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Cupid ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.89 and paid $16 to win at 7-1 odds in his first start since September.

Initially, Bejarano had wanted to ride Baffert's other entry, American Freedom, the 8-5 favorite that finished fifth. But the Hall of Fame trainer put Martin Garcia on that horse and Bejarano on Cupid.

''I wanted to do it differently,'' Baffert said. ''He felt so much better when he came back. He told me I was right. I'm happy for Bejarano.''

Follow Me Crev rallied to finish second after being bumped between horses and squeezed back coming out of the starting gate to the irritation of jockey Kent Desormeaux.

''He took a punch and a body blow the first jump,'' the jockey said. ''Ridiculous. These guys can't drive.''

Hard Aces, the 2015 Gold Cup winner, was another 2 3/4 lengths back in third and Midnight Storm was fourth in front of 17,634.

American Freedom dueled Prime Attraction through the early stages.

Cupid was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail last year, winning the Rebel Stakes before finishing 10th in the Arkansas Derby. But he never ran in the Kentucky Derby. The gray colt went on to win the Indiana Derby and West Virginia Derby, a pair of Grade 2 races, before finishing eighth in the Pennsylvania Derby.

''We took the back roads with Cupid last year and made over a million dollars,'' Baffert said.

From there, Baffert gave Cupid an extended vacation and the colt responded while stretching out to run the longest distance of his career. He has five wins in 10 career starts and earnings of $1.6 million.

''His class showed up and he's been working so well,'' Baffert said.

He trails the late Charlie Whittingham, who saddled a record eight Gold Cup winners. Baffert was stabled next to Whittingham in his last few years at Santa Anita.

''I learned a lot from him about bringing them off a layoff,'' Baffert said. ''If they're good enough, they can take it.''

Big John B was sixth and Prime Attraction finished last.

In the $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares, Lady Eli won by a half-length, ending a two-race skid as the heavy 3-5 favorite.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Lady Eli ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:45.29. She paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10. All but $18,388 of the total show pool of $315,505 was wagered on her in the Grade 1 race.

Goodyearforroses returned $4.20 and $2.20, while early pacesetter Avenge was another 3 1/4 lengths back in third. Mokat was fourth and Pretty Girl fifth.

Lady Eli was coming off two close losses: by a nose in the Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in April and by a head in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last November.

The 5-year-old dark brown mare has eight wins in 11 career starts and has never finished worse than second for New York-based trainer Chad Brown, who won the Preakness with Cloud Computing last weekend.

Two years ago, Lady Eli overcame a bout with laminitis, a painful inflammatory condition of the tissues that bond the hoof wall to the bone in a horse's hoof.

''Because of everything she's been through, it's way more emotional when she runs,'' said Cherie DeVaux, assistant to Brown. ''Her tenacity is what makes her great.''

Lady Eli will be pointed toward the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar this fall.