08/03/2007 12:00AM

Nashoba's Key unlikely to blemish her record

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Perfection on the line: Undefeated Nashoba's Key tops the Clement Hirsch.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Some day, undefeated Grade 1 winner Nashoba's Key might actually lose a race. If it happens at Del Mar on Sunday, it will be the biggest upset on the card.

Nashoba's Key, 5 for 5 and training fabulously for Carla Gaines over the new Polytrack racing surface, figures to be odds-on in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Clement L. Hirsch Handicap. She already frightened away one key rival.

Tough Tiz's Sis will have nothing do with Nashoba's Key.

"I was going to run, but Carla Gaines threw a curveball," trainer Bob Baffert said. Instead, Tough Tiz's Sis is going to the Alabama on Aug. 18 at Saratoga, Baffert said.

Gaines and owner Warren Williamson originally planned for Nashoba's Key to run Saturday on grass in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee Handicap.

"It looks like we pulled a switch, but it wasn't intentional," Gaines said. "Mr. Williamson is more comfortable running her on Polytrack."

Considering how well Nashoba's Key adapted to the new, safer surface, who can argue? "She trains incredibly well on Polytrack," Gaines said. "She trains great on it, and they say horses that train well on it, run well on it."

Nashoba's Key has handled everything thrown her way. She has won on turf at Santa Anita, and both turf and Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. When she races on Polytrack Sunday, Nashoba's Key and jockey Joe Talamo meet four rivals - Grade 1 winner Balance, along with Somethinaboutlaura, River Savage, and Bai and Bai.

Thankfully for Balance, the $300,000 Hirsch is the last time she must face her nemesis. Nashoba's Key beat Balance twice this spring at Hollywood Park - in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap on June 3, and again in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on July 7.

Balance and Nashoba's Key will go in different directions, heading for the same date - Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park. Balance will prep for the Breeders' Cup Distaff by running Sept. 30 in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park; Nashoba's Key will prep for the BC Filly and Mare Turf by running Sept. 29 in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

Balance re-emerged this winter as the top filly in the West. She won the Grade 2 La Canada and Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita, but was foiled twice on the synthetic track at Hollywood.

"I don't think she cared as much for the Cushion Track as she did for the dirt track," trainer David Hofmans said. "That's the question we have about running here."

John Amerman owns Balance, who has won six races and $982,491 from 13 starts. Jockey Victor Espinoza worked Balance five furlongs Monday, and afterward told Hofmans she handled the surface well. Hofmans recognizes that the work guarantees nothing.

"Here, you could love it in the morning and not get over it in the afternoon; it changes so much with the weather," Hofmans said.

Beyond the fact that she might be facing a superior filly Sunday, Balance also carries two pounds more than Nashoba's Key (122 to 120), while racing at a distance that is shorter than she prefers.

The distance is fine for Somethinaboutlaura, a 15-for-27 mare on a three-race win streak. She won the Grade 2, seven-furlong A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood in her last start, July 7.

"Consistency is her strong suit," trainer Jerry Hollendofer said. "I think she's equally good going short or long."

River Savage's trainer, A.C. Avila, cold-watered his mare's chances. River Savage won the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood two starts back on May 6, but Avila said she does better in cooler temperatures.

"It is the same thing as last summer," he said, referring to a time when she was off form. "She does not like the weather."

As for Nashoba's Key, her super workouts and off-the-pace running style - on a Polytrack surface that favors two-turn closers - make her the most probable winner on the Sunday card. She is likely to be odds-on as she tries to win her sixth straight.

Meanwhile, Gaines and Williamson are enjoying the ride.

"They all get beat eventually," Gaines said. "You can't put too much pressure on yourself in that respect. But it's fun."