Winners’ Circle

Always Perfect To A Tee

With the Secretariat biopic opening today nationwide, it’s a good time to share a horse story.

Two wmrw editors share tangential relationships with that immortal champion; one shares a birthday while another was lucky enough to witness his 1973 Derby win, but that’s beside the point.

A smiling Ellen Fredel

This is a story of a far less accomplished runner who had a very special owner too, someone we all knew well and miss very much.

Chilaw79, a distinguished member of the in-house counsel team who passed away about a month ago, was a part owner of a successful string of racehorses. We chose to maintain Chilaw’s anonymity with her passing, but were given the go-ahead to share a story, one that would even set her back on her heels.

We’d long thought that it was Robert Wone’s murder that brought Ellen Fredel and us together.  Unbeknownst to either of us while collaborating here on motions, estoppel and trial strategies, the Racing Gods, who work in very mysterious ways, had plans of their own many, many years ago. 

In 2004,  the Washington Post’s Andrew Beyer, the dean of American turf writers, wrote about how four local attorneys pooled a modest amount of money (by thoroughbred racing standards), to form the Nonsequitur Stable.  Ten years later they found themselves in the rarefied air of the game, saddling a runner in the Preakness.

“When Ellen Fredel, Pat Dooher, David Dorsen and the late Al Ablondi put up $10,000 apiece to launch their venture in 1994, they weren’t dreaming of the Preakness or of profits.  Recognizing the economic realities of the sport, they structured their partnership with tax write-offs in mind.  If they were fated to lose money, they agreed, they wanted the fun and challenge of directing the stable…”

Their second purchase was even more successful.  They spent another $14,500 for the gelding Perfect to a Tee, who went on to win more than $500,000 in an extraordinarily productive career.”

Perfect to a Tee

Perfect To A Tee was one of the Nonsequitur Stable’s more dependable stakes horses.

The gelding, foaled in 1992 went on to race seventy times between 1995 and 2001, and racked up sixteen visits to the winners’ circle.

We learned of Ellen’s involvement in the racing game only recently, after she passed.  The first clue was the many horse pictures drawn in crayon by children that were on display at her memorial service.

I signed the guest book on behalf of the readers and didn’t give those pictures a second thought.  The second clue came in by way of our stats a couple weeks later.  We got some hits by way of a memorial website that Ellen’s family put together; it noted two of her passions – horse racing and solving Robert Wone’s murder, and it had a link to our site

I punched up the racing page on the memorial site and there was a picture of Ellen in the Pimlico winners’ circle, standing next to her partners, trainer Linda Albert and jockey Al Cortez.  Ellen’s hand was on the trophy presented to them for winning the 1999 renewal of the the Grade III William Donald Schaefer Handicap, a key race on the Preakness Day card.  Perfect to a Tee won that $100,000 race by a half length.

Secretariat is a name that even the most casual of racing fans knows, but a relative few will remember Perfect to a Tee these days.  To remember Perfect to a Tee, one would have to have been a railbird at the local tracks or in this particular case, a former employee of the Maryland Jockey Club.  I remembered that horse.

"Ellen Fredel, Please report to the Winners' Circle"

Pinned to my office bulletin board for the last ten years is a reminder of those halcyon days at the race track, a few years before shifting my tack to K Street.  Up there next to pictures of the dog, the family, the nephews and nieces is a winners’ circle photo.

On my last day of work in the Laurel Park press box I had the opportunity to do the trophy presentation for that day’s feature race, the $100,000 Congressional Handicap.  You can guess who won that race.

Ten years ago, I stood nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with Ellen, with only jockey Al Cortez standing in between us.  It’s often said here that Robert Wone brought people together in life and that he still does in death.  Lady Luck brought Ellen and I together years ago, and it was Robert that reunited us in a way, but neither of us knew it.

Had Ellen dug deep through the wmrw archives from last spring, she would’ve seen a couple of racing-related posts.  Maybe it’s better that she didn’t, otherwise we would never have kept our minds on the business at hand.

The Congressional was the last win in Perfect to a tee’s four race streak in the autumn of 1999.  He’d go on to win only once more in his career, at Philadelphia Park nearly a year later.  He beat a horse named Judge’s View rather handily, by almost three lengths, and stood for his final picture in the winners’ circle.

After that race, Perfect ran twice more in 2000 at Laurel in the Hail Emperor Stakes and once again in the Congressional.  He finished third and fifth respectively, on both occasions finishing behind a horse named Sly Joe.  Some horse players love hunch bets, even years after the fact.

We don’t know where he is now but in 2004, the Baltimore Sun reported that, “their horse Perfect to a Tee, retired now on a farm where he goes on fox hunts and rounds up cattle…”  He earned a nice rest and although it came much too early, so did Ellen.

Perfect to a Tee  (Bay Gelding by Parfaitement – No Time to Write by Staff Writer)

33 comments for “Winners’ Circle

  1. LegallyConfused
    10/08/2010 at 10:09 AM

    Thanks, Craig, for the appreciation on Chilaw79 aka Ellen Fredel.
    And connecting the dots for us with your press days at the Laurel press box and Perfect to a Tee’s racing history.
    It really does confirm the “six degrees of separation” theory about our various relationships in life
    I miss Chilaw’s enlightening comments on this site. They certainly helped to remove much of the second half of my posting appellation.
    Thank you for making her more human to all of us.

  2. denton
    10/08/2010 at 10:14 AM

    In Memory of : Chilaw79 (Ellen A. Fredel, Esquire)

    You will forever be my “first” and “last” “walking law library” (if you would allow me to admire you the deepest way that I can). I am so grateful to have gotten to know you. The memory of how you “shared yourself” with me, and the rest of us, was greater than what I can describe.

    May you rest in peace, Mrs. Fredel.

    There is a better place up there where you do belong – although we yearn for your wisdom, your wit, your sharpness, your knowledge, your quick to shape all of us in such an enlightened way, and that remains in my heart!

    You are the law with no bounderies, Mrs. Fredel!

  3. gina a
    10/08/2010 at 10:25 AM

    Thank you so very much for adding to the picture I had of Chilaw-I still missing seeing her tagline as I scroll through the posts. Glad to know she had such a full and interesting life outside of WMRW. Rest in peace Ellen Fredel.

  4. Kate
    10/08/2010 at 10:26 AM

    What a wonderful story, many thanks Craig.

    It’s grand to “meet” Chilaw, through Ellen’s lovely, smiling face.

    Regards to you, and rest in peace Ellen.

  5. denton
    10/08/2010 at 10:41 AM

    from Hallmark Moments
    By Doug

    chilaw79 on 09/05/2010 at 12:13 AM
    At one point, there were two cats in my household and they occasionally set off the motion detectors when the home alarm system was set. I do not believe the residents of Swann Street had any pets who could be blamed.

    chilaw79 on 09/03/2010 at 6:52 PM
    I had to drive to Baltimore this afternoon for a meeting. On the way, I was listening to WAMU-FM (the local public radio station) doing a short piece on a band called “We Were Pirates.” The band did an acoustic version of a song entitled “The Three of Us.” As I listened, I could only think of Victor: . . .

    … a softer and witty side of Chilaw79 that I remembered vividly.

  6. CDinDC (Boycott BP)
    10/08/2010 at 11:10 AM

    I am so touched. Thank you, Craig and eds for this really lovely post in honor of our ChiLaw79.

    And thank you to her family for allowing the website to let her identify be known. She deserves that.

    Rest in peace, Ellen.

  7. Rebecca
    10/08/2010 at 11:24 AM

    What a wonderful story! I had to read it twice, with tears in my eyes both times. Thank you to Ellen’s family for allowing her identity to be known. She is even more wonderful than we thought.

    • Rich
      10/08/2010 at 12:47 PM

      Try reading it three times. Too much.

      Craig, I’m elated you had the opportunity to advance the ball at the Memorial Service and learn more about your history with Chi Law.

      I hope you had the chance to share with her family, the tributes everyone wrote following her passing.

      Since her death was so sudden, I never felt we properly brought closure to the matter and now you have come, “Full Circle,” by sharing the story with the readers of WMRW.

      Thank you for all your good work.

      You must be spinning over your previous connection to her.

      • denton
        10/08/2010 at 1:00 PM

        Good thought, Rich. I feel Chilaw79’s circle is now “completed.” Thanks for bringing that up.

      • Rich
        10/08/2010 at 1:01 PM


        Just put it together as I re-read the posting a fourth time.

        The, “Memorial Site,” posted your annoucement of her passing,so, her family saw the tributes.

        A perfect close for everyone.


  8. Rapt in MD
    10/08/2010 at 1:01 PM

    Not a dry eye in my cube. So grateful to have met her through this site and for the editors and family for sharing the identity of someone so brilliant. RIP Counselor.

  9. boofoc
    10/08/2010 at 1:24 PM

    We praised Chilaw as a legal scholar, which she obviously was, lttle did we know she was much, much more than a talented lawyer. As I suggested in a previous posting: in the darkness of death, Ellen dear, walk toward the light until the sunrise of your new day is as bright as you made the ones we shared so briefly with you.

  10. rich
    10/08/2010 at 1:29 PM

    The Six Degrees of Separation Comes Back Again.

    I just reviewed Ellen’s obituary.

    Ellen practiced Employee Benefits law and FANNIE MAE was one of her clients.

    I was the former Recruitment Director at FANNIE MAE.

    I belive, I sat in one of Ellen’s seminars explaining to HR Practitioner’s what the changes in our employee benefits program meant to our employees.

    I believe, Ellen chaired that discussion.


    But, if so, Craig, isn’t odd how Chi Law comes back to us in so many ways.

    Kinda eery.

  11. Bea
    10/08/2010 at 2:24 PM

    Having had the pleasure of some off-line emails with Ellen, I can say that she was a funny, interesting, and extraordinarily bright woman. Be she Ellen or ChiLaw, her persona was uniquely delightful.

    Craig, I expect that you will keep that photo on your bulletin board, or perhaps in a nice frame, forever. I think many of us will have that bulletin board memory as well – thank you, Eds, for giving us this forum. And with a nod of the head to the other departed one, Robert, I may step away from my keyboard for a bit in silent tribute.

    • Craig
      10/08/2010 at 4:05 PM

      That picture has been up there forever with the company phone directory hanging over it on most days. The first time I saw Ellen’s page with Perfect to a Tee, I moved the directory aside and had a rather dramatic personal reveal. Everyone in the office heard me squealing, “OMG! OMG!” The office, too, is more than ready for this case to wrap.

  12. 10/08/2010 at 4:03 PM

    The illuminating thing about Ellen’s relationship with Perfect to a T was that if you look carefully at the chart above, you will notice that the horse did not race between June of 1997 and October of 1998. What was happening during those 16 months? T had hurt himself and was at the University of Pennsylvania Large Animal Veterinary Center and then recuperating on a horse farm. This is absolutely not what a stable (business) does when a horse is seriously injured – the horse is sold if it can still run at all or put down if it cannot run.

    The investment and faith in T was well justified when he came back to win race after race and become Maryland Senior Horse of the Year. Ellen was not the type to give up on a horse or on a cause (like Wone).

    Today, T is today happily working on a farm in Virginia and eagerly solicits carrots.

    • Bea
      10/08/2010 at 4:20 PM

      Thanks for the story, Gabe! Sounds like Ellen did the ‘right thing’ despite what ‘owners’ typically do – not a surprise. Can only imagine how much you miss her.

    • CDinDC (Boycott BP)
      10/08/2010 at 6:23 PM

      That’s beautiful. An animal lover, as well. That makes me smile.

    • Craig
      10/08/2010 at 10:29 PM

      Gabe: Thanks for the update on T. UPenn is the best of the best and that couldn’t have been cheap. T got the best care possible from the same veterinary heroes who cared for the mighty Barbaro. That’s a testament to some great owners and Ellen and her team are exactly what the racing game needs more of.

    • Jeana
      10/09/2010 at 10:39 AM

      In racing parlance, the great horses like Secretariat, Affirmed, Seabiscuit and Barbaro are said to have “heart.” So wonderful to know that T’s owners’ hearts match up to his own. My condolences to Ellen’s teammates, my ongoing respect and admiration to our dear Chilaw … and many, many carrots to T.

    • carolina
      10/10/2010 at 11:16 AM

      Thank you for this. How wonderful.

    • Tallulah
      10/11/2010 at 9:44 PM

      Thanks so much for sharing the backstory about T, his recovery, and his exemplary owners – cannot emphasize how unusual it is to hear of owners so willing to commit large resources to an equine athlete who may never finish in the money again.

      I have been largely a lurker for over 2 years now on the site, never failed to learn from ChiLaw/Ellen’s wise counsel, and often catch up on my site reading while watching my thoroughbred horse play in the field or devour his post-workout meal. How delightful to learn of a shared passion with someone I hold in such esteem.

      BTW, T is a nicely bred horse and connected to mine through their Princequillo ancestry – shared also with Secretariat. So pleased to hear that he is thriving in retirement from the track! Thank you so much Craig for sharing this.

      • Craig
        10/12/2010 at 10:46 AM

        Tallulah: Good eye for the bloodlines. There’s some Northern Dancer in T, too.

        Clio: That’s exactly how you should be turned out for Royal Ascot, as you arrive in your four-in-hand.

  13. Liam
    10/08/2010 at 8:15 PM

    What a truly wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. Rick
    10/08/2010 at 9:58 PM

    What a small world we live in…
    Thanks so much for sharing this story.

  15. Lynn
    10/09/2010 at 10:22 AM

    I too am touched by this story! Who would’ve thought there was a connection. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  16. 10/09/2010 at 11:52 PM

    Craig Thank you for sharing this story of such a beautiful person! I remember Denton asking Chilaw’79 whether she was a judge; she explained things so clearly and in a calm, knowledgeable, straightforward and – well OK truly – judicious- way. We are richer for Ellen/ChiLaw 79’s presence, albeit internet- length and poorer for her passing. My heartfelt sympathies to Ellen’s husband, Ellen’s extraordinary sister, and family on their loss and gratitude for sharing who she was with us. As gina a said above, it is wonderful that Ellen had such an interesting and fulfilling life. She deserved it. May Ellen rest in peace in “the land of the blessed” and may the justice which she sought be achieved.

  17. susan
    10/10/2010 at 1:11 AM

    A lot still to learn from Chilaw79/Ms. Ellen Fredel, and her wisdom and spirit live on here. I was reading some posts of hers from August (rest in peace, dear Chilaw79)and she was wondering about cell phone pictures. I would assume that if any of the trouple or other potential suspects in this case took cell phone pictures, they would have deleted them, or sent them off elsewhere. But I wonder if the action taking the photo is recorded/able to be tracked, etc. What I mean is, if a person sends a text and the text is deleted, I think there is still a record of the text being sent even if the text isn’t there.

    There’s also a way to set up free accts with various phone companies to store your photos online. Wonder if any of the trouple did this or if it’s been looked into.

  18. GMinOhio
    10/10/2010 at 9:02 PM

    Thank you for sharing this…finally. I say that because right after ChiLaw79 died, I was going back thru her posings by using the search feature. The first one I came to was Day 4: Wrap. When I got to her posting, her name was highlighted in yellow. Why I don’t know, but I clicked it. That took me to her home page, which gave me her name which led me to her obituary.
    My first reaction was to write a check to the Robert Wone Memorial func, which I still have because I just wasn’t sure about making a contribution in her name. However, the obituary suggested contributions to local food banks, so I did that instead.
    The obituary also led to story about the horse racing which impressed this former Kentucky bluegrass resident. I wanted to mention all this here, but since you all were silent about her identify, I just kept quiet.
    But I am glad you have told her story here. She added so much to our knowledge. As someone else said, thanks for completing the circle.

    • Craig
      10/11/2010 at 10:11 AM

      Thanks GM: I didn’t notice that, but one day during the trial I replied to one of her comments and used “Ellen” instead of her screenname. She asked that I make the change and I fixed it in no time. Little did we know that she left clues all over the place.

  19. Cara
    10/10/2010 at 10:08 PM

    Isn’t that a story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  20. Nelly
    10/11/2010 at 9:58 PM

    RIP, Ellen Fredel. It is nice to hear the background story about one of the insightful commentators here.

  21. Clio
    10/11/2010 at 10:17 PM

    Thanks for those glorious details about our late favorite, Chilaw or Ms. Fredel. Usually, when analysts become the or their story, I deplore it, but Ellen herself knew exactly when to mix the personal notes with the professional, so as not to drown the flavors of either.

    On a side note, who knew that openly gay men could be such fixtures at the horse track! I’ll have to get out my Edwardian gloves and hats more often, if only to accompany my husband to the Derbies, of course.

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