05/29/2008 11:00PM

Riders fondly reflect on Nashoba's Key

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The two champion jockeys who rode Nashoba's Key during her 10-race career spoke fondly of the millionaire mare who was euthanized on Wednesday after sustaining a catastrophic leg injury in her stall at Hollywood Park.

Garrett Gomez, the Eclipse Award winner as the nation's outstanding jockey of 2007, remembered the confidence Nashoba's Key showed in winning the final start of her career, the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March, and how optimistic he was about her future.

Jockey Joe Talamo, the 18-year-old who earned the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice of 2007, recalled Nashoba's Key's feistiness and how she displayed that behavior on the track to work herself out of trouble in time to salvage a win.

Both were quick to say that the death of the 5-year-old California-bred Nashoba's Key has hit them hard, and left them in disbelief that such a horse could be lost after striking her left hind leg to a side of her outside pen prior to an early-morning gallop.

"The way it happened sounded so freakish," Gomez said. "It didn't sound right."

Gomez rode Nashoba's Key at the beginning and end of her career, in which she won 8 of 10 starts and $1,252,090. He was aboard for her first three races, all wins. Talamo picked up the mount when Gomez left to ride on the East Coast last summer and fall. Earlier this year, trainer Carla Gaines and owner-breeder Warren Williamson replaced Talamo with Gomez for the Santa Margarita on March 9, a race that Nashoba's Key won by 4 1/2 lengths, the largest margin of her career in a stakes.

The win followed back-to-back losses, including a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park last fall, and left Gomez thrilled about her prospects for the rest of 2008. Nashoba's Key was being prepared for a comeback when she was injured.

"I was very excited about what she had coming up in the fall," Gomez said. "Horses are like people. When she did get beat, it shook her confidence, and it took time to get her on the right track again. I think Carla was doing the right thing to give her some time off for the Breeders' Cup and the races that were coming around."

Gomez was left with the memory of how easily Nashoba's Key won her first three starts.

"Her first couple of races were so impressive," he said. "You don't see too many California-breds by Silver Hawk that go 8 for 10 and win $1.2 million. She was something. She wanted to do what she liked to do, and that was run."

Talamo rode Nashoba's Key in six starts, winning four stakes, including the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap last July and the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes last September. In between, she won the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, overcoming trouble in early stretch before rallying to win by 1 1/2 lengths, much to Talamo's relief.

"To me, her most impressive race was the one at Del Mar," Talamo said. "To be in behind and do what she did, I thought, 'Wow.' At 17, she took me to levels I never thought I'd get to until I was 40, winning two Grade 1s.

"In post parades, she was so relaxed. She was a different horse in the paddock. She tried to kick me every time in the paddock. She wasn't one of those that wanted to be petted. She was strictly business and on the muscle. It was such a pleasure to ride her."