Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition

Key of Life at best distance

- By Nicole Russo

Cutting back to her favorite distance, Key of Life is the only prior graded stakes winner in the group of seven 3-year-old fillies lining up for the Grade 3, $150,000 Miss Preakness Stakes on Friday at Pimlico.

Key of Life won 3 of 4 outings at the six furlongs of the Miss Preakness last year, including the Myrtlewood Stakes at Keeneland, and finished third in the Fern Creek Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs. After opening this year with a third-place finish on a muddy Oaklawn track in the six-furlong Dixie Belle Stakes, she added another win at that distance in the Purple Martin Stakes on March 25 at Oaklawn.

Trainer Brad Cox and owners Staton Flurry and Greg Hoffman then called an audible. Seeing an opportunit­y to secure graded stakes black type with a sharp horse, they shipped the filly to Keeneland for the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes while stretching her out to a bit over seven furlongs. Key of Life held a clear lead throughout while in her customary pacesettin­g role, opened up by more than two lengths in the stretch, and then held staunchly through the final yards for a neck victory.

“She ran really well – I’m not certain she really wants to go that far,” Cox said. “She kind of got that done off class. She was coming back in three weeks.”

In stretching out Key of Life, the team chose the Beaumont over the Grade 2 Eight Belles at seven furlongs on the May 5 Kentucky Oaks undercard, both because of a less-competitiv­e field and it provided more ideal spacing into the Miss Preakness, a race that fits perfectly in the filly’s wheelhouse.

“It was by design – I thought I’d kind of squeeze her there, maybe ask her to run back on short rest, and then come back in the Miss Preakness,” said Cox, who won this race in 2019 with eventual dual Eclipse Award champion Covfefe. “Kind of dodge these fillies that ran [in the Eight Belles] going seven-eighths. I don’t really know how far she wants to go, and I think the three-quarters suits her very well.”

Flavien Prat, aboard Key of Life in the Dixie Belle and Beaumont, is in the irons again Friday. The duo drew post 2, and the strategy seems clear.

Also likely to gun toward the lead is unbeaten Maple Leaf Mel, who drew post 6 in this field of seven under regular rider Joel Rosario. Maple Leaf Mel has won all three of her starts, including a pair of stakes, against New York-breds for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. She made her first start of the season, and first in more than seven months, in the East View Stakes going six furlongs on March 24 at Aqueduct and rolled by 7 3/4 lengths. That earned her a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 87. She is the only entrant to approach the field-best 92 Beyer Figure that Key of Life earned in the Beaumont.

Locally based Brittany Russell saddles Laurel Park stakes winners L Street Lady, who has not started since February,

and Bound by Destiny, unseen since November. Bound by Destiny is making her first start since being transferre­d to Russell.

“I brought her in and I worked her, and she worked really well. I thought, ‘Wow, she’s a little more ready than I thought she might be,’ ” Russell said. “Then she and L Street Lady both worked together Friday, and it was a very nice work for both of those fillies. They galloped out well and came out of it well. They both seem to be in a good place, considerin­g they’re both coming off a little time.”

Happy Clouds has not been worse than second since being claimed by Anthony Farrior. She was second in the Beyond the Wire Stakes going a mile, then won an allowance/ optional-claiming race at six furlongs last out.

Topsy won her first two starts for Steve Asmussen and then was fourth in the Purple Martin. Afternoon Tea, a lastout maiden winner at Keeneland for Rodolphe Brisset, completes the field.

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