Keeneland: QE II challenger bounces back strong from life-threatening illness

Her Emmynency is an early 8-1 shot out of the four post for Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland.
Her Emmynency is an early 8-1 shot out of the four post for Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland.

An initial glance at Her Emmynency's past performances reveals what might have been.

There was the neck defeat in last year's Grade I Debutante at Del Mar, just her second career start. And most recently, the bay filly came just three-quarters of a length short of defying her 14-1 odds in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 15.

Trainer Michael Stidham will tell you the real story of Her Emmynency's fortunes in the eight-month gap between her final start of 2014 and her 2015 debut. A year after she was rushed to a California clinic with a life-threatening bout of colitis, Stidham counts the filly's presence in his barn as the victory that counts most.

Stidham will lead Her Emmynency over for her third try at top-level heroics this Saturday when she faces eight challengers in the Grade I, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes on the Keeneland turf. It will be the latest moment her connections weren't certain would happen again after the filly fell critically ill at Santa Anita Park last October while preparing for her planned run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Owned by Dawn and Ike Thrash, Her Emmynency figured to be among the top contenders in that Breeders' Cup spot after having won the Surfer Girl Stakes at Santa Anita last Oct. 5. Instead, she became a patient at Chino Valley Equine Hospital and was then sent to the farm for about five months before Stidham could start working her back into race form.

"We worked her, she worked really well in preparation for Breeders' Cup and the next afternoon at the barn, she had real bad diarrhea and we had to get her to the clinic like, immediately," Stidham recalled. "With colitis, that first 24 hours is the most critical time. She went to the clinic, they treated her and within a few days she was responding, doing better.

"Any time a horse has colitis that is one of those things that can kill them or if they survive it, you never look back from it. She was one of the lucky ones that survived it and then she's never had another issue with it. You just don't know which way the pendulum will swing."

Her Emmynency's first race post-illness was the proverbial sigh of relief as she won a 1-mile allowance race on the Polytrack at Arlington Park on June 20.

She wasn't done with challenging moments, though. Her runner-up effort in the Del Mar Oaks was a nice rebound from a sixth-place run in the Grade II San Clemente Handicap in July — the only time in six career starts she has been worse than second.

However, plans to ship her to New York for a start in the Grade II Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 12 had to be scrapped when she threw a fit at the airport and the Tex Sutton flight crew refused to load her on the plane.

"She actually flew here (to Keeneland) and we flew her as a 2-year-old to California and she had no problem, so I don't know what set her off," Stidham said. "Actually, I think the time between races will do her some good. She had another half-mile work here (:51.60 on Monday) and was really good. She got over the course, was real happy out there, ears pricked. And doing it comfortably."

Had Her Emmynency made it to the Sands Point, she would have clashed with Godolphin Racing's Sentiero Italia, the 6-5 morning-line choice in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup who won the Sands Point by 33/4 lengths over a field that included fellow QEII entrant Miss Temple City.

If Sentiero Italia is as forwardly placed going 11⁄8 miles this Saturday as she was in the Sands Point, she and Her Emmynency are likely going to get acquainted early.

"I think the Successful Appeal (sire pedigree) gives her that speed and, especially going 11⁄8 miles, she's going to be forwardly placed," Stidham said. "She's been second twice in Grade I's, tough beats but she usually gives a good account of herself.

"This (the QEII) was our fall goal, and we'll probably ... bring her back next year as a 4-year-old."