Going straight to the front wasn't the game plan, but New York-bred Fire Key led at every point of call and held off a late charge from Broadway Run and Fear No Evil in the final sixteenth of a mile to notch her fourth career stakes victory in Sunday afternoon's $125,000 License Fee – a six-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares over a yielding inner turf course at Belmont Park.
Jockey Jose Ortiz guided the Backwards Stables homebred daughter of Friesan Fire through an opening quarter of 23.26 seconds with Mrs. Ramona G tracking a length back in second, just to her inside.
Fire Key maintained said margin at the halfway point in 47.10 and extended her lead to 1 ½ lengths the top of the stretch under some urging by Ortiz.
In the final half-furlong, Broadway Run and Fear No Evil moved in unison to her outside in an attempt to catch the pacesetter but were a slim margin short of victory as Fire Key won a three-horse photo by a nose in a final time of 1:10.99 with Broadway Run finishing second and Fear No Evil closing another nose back in third.
“She broke really well, and she was comfortable where she was,” Ortiz said. “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.”
Fire Key was making her first start for trainer Jim Ryerson after being trained by Joe Catanese during the winter months in South Florida. She was conditioned by Patrick Kelly during the bulk of her 2018 campaign.
“She shipped well here to New York,” Ortiz continued. “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.”
Ryerson echoed Ortiz's sentiments of not planning to be up front but was just thankful for the victory.
“I was surprised she laid up that close,” Ryerson said. “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.”
Never off the board in seven career starts, runner-up Broadway Run was slow away from the gate under jockey Junior Alvarado.
“She didn't break the way I would have liked and then I had to be where I was,” Alvarado said. “It was still a comfortable position, but I would have loved to be right there outside of the horse that won the race instead of staying between horses and waiting longer.”
A four-time stakes winner, the License Fee was Fire Key's third stakes win over a turf course rated yielding. Her triumphs in the Floral Park last October over the inner turf at Belmont Park, and the Sensible Lady last September at Laurel Park also were over yielding ground.
Going to post as the 6-5 favorite, Fire Key returned $4.70 for a $2 win bet. In addition, she cashed a check for $68,750 from Sunday's win. Her lifetime earnings now stand at $574,160.
Completing the order of finish were Mrs. Ramona G, Albertville and Misericordia. Goldwood was scratched.
Bred in New York, Fire Key is the second progeny out of the Albert the Great broodmare U R Key. All three of her foals that have started are winners.
Live racing resumes on Thursday at Belmont Park with a nine-race card. First post time is 1:30 p.m.
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