Kallenberg Farms' Forever Liesl stayed well off the pace before a strong stretch-drive charge, overtaking 7-5 favorite Sara Street in the final furlong to notch her first career stakes win in the 148th running of the $100,000 Ladies Handicap for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up on Sunday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Stretching back out to the Ladies distance of 1 1/8 miles for the first time since a runner-up effort in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap (G3) on Nov. 3, Forever Liesl stayed near the rear of the field as Sexy Reasons led through an opening quarter-mile in 24.09 seconds, the half in 48.81 and three-quarters in 1:14.72 on the sloppy and sealed main track.
Under jockey Eric Cancel and carrying 118 pounds, Forever Liesl made a move from the outside on the back stretch before zeroing in on Sara Street entering the final turn. The two linked up in the stretch, with the Michelle Nevin-trained Forever Liesl gaining the edge for good past the eighth pole before surging to a 4 1/4-length win, completing the course in 1:54.12.
"She did great and Eric [Cancel] gave her a great ride," Nevin said. "She looked very professional and won nicely. With the sloppy track, we were definitely confident coming into today with her previous success on it, but we're glad it all worked out. We'll enjoy this win for now and I'll talk with [owner] Jeffrey [Kallenberg] to see what he wants to do next."
Off at 2-1, Forever Liesl returned $6.10 on a $2 win bet. The 5-year-old Florida-bred won for the first time in eight career stakes starts, improving her career earnings to $289,564. The Mineshaft mare also won at the Big A after finishing second in all three previous races here.
"I was very confident. When I rode her the first time [the Turnback the Alarm] I knew what type of horse I had underneath me," Cancel said. "Today, I was just trying to follow Dylan [Davis, aboard Sara Street]. He had the best horse in the race and that's what I did. I just kept on following him, and when we turned for home it was just me and him and she just took off.
"I wasn't able to save too much ground, but I wasn't really concerned about it because I was close. The horse that I was following [Sara Street] was right next to me, so I thought I was in a good spot. Once I asked her, she just kept on going and never gave up on me."
Sara Street, carrying 118 pounds and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, outdistanced Crimson Frost by 7 1/2 lengths for second in her first stakes appearance since a fourth-place finish in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) in May at Pimlico.
"She broke very sharply," Davis said. "I saw the two horses hustling inside [Sexy Reasons and Total Control] and I just let them go ahead because I didn't want her to have too much pressure too early. She did her own thing on the outside and carried me nicely into the second turn. She gave a little fight to that seven horse [Forever Liesl], but she gave way a little there the last eighth. She tries hard every time."
Total Control, Matty's Magnum and Sexy Reasons completed the order of finish. Enthrall was pulled up before the wire and walked off.