Fire Key switches up tactics to win License Fee

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

NYRA/Joe Labozzetta (Inside)

By Sarah Mace

Followers of Fire Key’s career probably expected the 6-year-old Backwards Stable homebred to deliver the goods in Sunday’s featured $125,000 License Fee Stakes on the Belmont Park inner turf course, where she appeared to overlay the field in back class and Beyer Speed Figures. What they probably weren’t expecting, though, is that the confirmed closer would strike the lead after the break, set all the fractions and be called upon to hold off a cavalry charge in the final jumps. Ultimately her nose was the first of three on the wire in a thrilling photo finish.

Fire Key was making a return to Belmont following a four-race winter campaign at Gulfstream Park, where her best finish was a third in the 7 1/2-furlong South Beach Stakes over yielding ground. In her next two starts, she stretched out to a mile and did not run badly, but in the License Fee turned back to six furlongs where she had a prior record of five wins and four seconds in 10 tries. Going out for trainer Jim Ryerson for the first time on Sunday, Fire Key had all the angles going for her and was bet down to 6-5 favoritism accordingly.

Springing alertly out of the gate from post five under Jose Ortiz, Fire Key set up shop in the two-path and opened up three-quarters of a length over Mrs. Ramona G. at the rail and Broadway Run. Fear No Evil tracked in the three-path.

Clocking the first quarter in 23.26 and half in 47.10 while widening her advantage to 1 1/2 lengths in the approach to the turn, Fire Key navigated the turn smoothly and straightened away for the dash home. Soon she would hear the pounding hooves of her pursuers.

Fire Key moved inside a path in midstretch as Mrs. Ramona G. dropped out of the fight. To her outside, though, Fear No Evil and Broadway Run charged, determined to make Fire Key earn the win.

In the final jump Fire Key still had a nose ahead of Broadway Run. Fear No Evil finished a head back in third. The final time for six furlongs over the turf course, rated “yielding,” was 1:10.99. [VIDEO]

Those who were surprised to see Fire Key assume the mantle of pacesetter, were not alone. Ryerson said, “I was surprised she laid up that close. She hasn’t been up front in her most recent races although she showed she could do that earlier in her career. Thank God she held on. We’re happy. It was a little trying at the end, but we’ll take it.”

As jockey Jose Ortiz explained, “She broke really well, and she was comfortable where she was. It wasn’t my plan to be up front, but I knew she was going easy enough and was relaxed. The fractions were very soft early, and she punched home. She was very game. I’m very happy with the way she did it.”

Added Ortiz, “She shipped well here to New York. Joe Catanese did a great job with her in Florida and so did Jimmy here in New York. I’m very happy for the connections.”

Save for a run of tough racing luck last summer, Fire Key has been admirably consistent both for original trainer Pat Kelly and Catanese in Florida. She has now compiled a record of eight wins from 28 starts with seven seconds and two thirds and earned $574,160. The License Fee is her fourth stakes victory. She took the Autumn Days at Aqueduct in 2017 and Belmont’s Floral Park and Laurel’s Sensible Lady last year.

Foaled at Sun Valley Farm in Ballston Spa, Fire Key is out of U R Key, an unraced Backwards Stable homebred by Albert the Great. Her second dam Sugar Key (Missionary Ridge GB) was bred in New York by Jill Rich and Edward Michaels II.

The producer of three winners from three foals to start, U R Key’s first foal was Masterkey (Will He Shine), a Finger Lakes-based six-figure earner. Currently the mare yearling colt by Micromanage and was bred to Mr. Z in 2018.


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