Undefeated Nashoba's Key had to overcome an anxious moment in the $294,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) for fillies and mares Aug. 5 on the Del Mar Polytrack, but she came thundering home under Joe Talamo for her sixth successive victory.
Nashoba's Key, the 1-2 favorite, ran down the front-running Bai and Bai in the late stages of the 1 1/16-mile Hirsch to win by 1 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:48 1/5. California breds ran one-two.
With the scratches of Tough Tiz's Sis and Somethinaboutlaura, the Warren B. Williamson homebred Nashoba's Key, a daughter of Silver Hawk--Nashoba (Caerleon), had just three rivals to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Hirsch. But because of some tactical riding from Victor Espinoza aboard Balance, there was some concern, trainer Carla Gaines admitted.
"She always runs her race, but you just don't know with this new surface," Gaines said. "If a horse gets stopped on this track, it seems like it is a lot harder to get going again than it is on the Cushion Track (at Hollywood Park)."
The 4-year-old filly gave Talamo and Gaines their third successful collaboration of the afternoon. Gaines' training triple is believed to be the first by a female in the history of Del Mar.
Balance, on the outside of Nashoba's Key as they ran up on a glacial pace set by Bai and Bai (:25 4/5, :51, 1:16 1/5) and River Savage on the far turn, kept the favorite boxed in as the field straightened away for the stretch run. Balance left Nashoba's Key behind in upper stretch to loom a threat to Bai and Bai, but giving Nashoba's Key some running room. Talamo angled Nashoba's Key out mid-stretch to rally on the inside of the tiring River Savage, but the favorite had quite a bit of ground to make up to catch the leaders.
Meantime, the three-time grade I winner Balance was finding the little Falstaff filly Bai and Bai, ridden by Aaron Gryder, more than she could handle. Bai and Bai kicked away from Balance and seemed a threat to last the distance. But no problem -- Nashoba's Key roared past in the final strides under some urging.
"Words can't explain," the 17-year-old Talamo said in describing the feeling he had on Nashoba's Key as they teamed for their third graded victory. "She's unbelievable, fantastic, whatever you want to call her."
Talamo said he was always confident on her, even in tight quarters on the rail. "She's just sitting there chilly, with her ears pricked, waiting. I was so confident. She has a kick that is out of this world."
With Talamo in the irons, Nashoba's Key won the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) by three-quarters of a length over Balance July 7 at Hollywood. She also teamed with Talamo to beat Balance in the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) over the same Cushion Track a month earlier. Despite that, Balance carried top weight of 122 pounds, two more than Nashoba's Key. The challenger Bai and Bai toted 114.
Nashoba's Key's first three victories -- including a stakes win over state breds -- came on the grass.
The $180,000 earned Aug. 5 swelled Nashoba's Key's bankroll to $623,460. She paid $3 and $2.10, topping a $22 exacta with Bai and Bai ($5), who gained a grade II placing for trainer Craig Dollase. Bai and Bai was a $3,200 yearling purchased earlier this year by Beverly Lewis.
Balance was three lengths back in third and the Brazilian-bred River Savage trailed, nine lengths behind the winner.