08/10/2017 6:17PM

Lover's Key continues upward trajectory in NYSS Statue of Liberty

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lover's Key was the decisive winner of Thursday's $100,000 Statue of Liberty Division of the New York Stallion Series.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Lover’s Key avenged her only setback in her last six starts, and did so with authority Thursday at Saratoga, leading throughout before pulling away late to a convincing 2 1/4-length decision over Lady Joan in the $100,000 Statue of Liberty Division of the New York Stallion Series.

Lady Joan outlasted Lover’s Key by three-parts of a length in the opening leg of the Stallion Series for 3-year-old fillies on the turf decided on June 25 at Belmont Park. She’s the only horse to have finished in front of Lover’s Key since she began her current streak under a $25,000 claiming tag at Gulfstream Park on April 1. Her skein coincides with owner-trainer Reid Nagle’s decision to put blinkers on Lover’s Key for the first time that day.

With Junior Alvarado aboard on Thursday, Lover’s Key quickly took command of the one mile Statue of Liberty and set a very reasonable pace, posting splits of 24.31 seconds and 48.52 for the opening quarter and half-mile while stalked from the outset by Lady Joan. Alvarado asked the leader for her run near the five-sixteenths pole, Lover’s Key responded to gradually pull away from her pursuers down the stretch.

Lady Joan was unable to menace the winner through the final furlong but stayed on willingly enough to finish second, a half-length in front of Hollywood Cat. Paz the Bourbon, the tepid 5-2 favorite in a field of eight New York-bred fillies, saved ground but lacked a response when roused, finishing yet another three-parts of a length farther back in fourth.

Lover’s Key, whom Nagle claimed for $50,000 out of her 3-year-old debut on Jan. 4 at Gulfstream, completed the distance in 1:34.97 over a firm course and paid $10.00. Lover’s Key is the first horse Nagle has ever started at Saratoga.

“I was a little surprised she made the lead so easily,” said Nagle. “I thought there would be a lot of competition for the lead. But she broke perfectly, easily got to the lead, and the pace was very moderate.”

Nagle said the addition of blinkers, a somewhat unusual set that consists of a full cup over her left eye and an extended cup over her right, has completely turned Lover’s Key around.

“She’s just so much more focused now,” said Nagle. “She knows what her job is, and she knows where the finish line is. In a couple of her races at Gulfstream Park in which she went to the lead and ultimately won, she went very tightly around the first turn but the second turn she ran to the outside rail with a full cup over her right eye. So we put the extended cup on the right side and that’s eliminated that issue entirely.”