Jockey Diane Nelson played the best poker hand in the $150,000 Comely Handicap (gr. IIT) when she guided Acey Deucey to a late-running victory over Seeking the Ante at Aqueduct Saturday.
Nelson waited patiently in upper stretch as she and Acey Deucey looked for room on her outside, angled out in mid-stretch, and was along in time to leave Seeking the Ante and Mike Luzzi behind by a half-length at the wire.
"The one thing was making sure we had enough horse so we could get the distance," Nelson said. "John told me to wait as long as I could, and that was the hard part. When I turned for home, I said, `Something's got to open up.' I just had to wait and get out. She wants to run that way, she wants to sit and wait."
Pleasant Chimes got into trouble trying to squeeze through along the rail in mid-stretch and was unable to regain her momentum in time to challenge the winner while finishing gamely. The 2-1 favorite in the field of seven, Pleasant Chimes finished third, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
The final time for the one-mile, one-turn test for 3-year-old fillies was 1:35 4/5.
Nelson has been aboard the $35,000 New York-bred daughter of Abaginone for each of her seven starts. They've won four of those and never been off the board.
Trained by John Morrison for owner Jeffrey Tucker, Acey Deucey ran second, 1 1/4 lengths behind Dixie Talking in Aqueduct's Cicada (gr. III) March 19. She earned $90,000 for her first graded stakes victory to run her total purses to $223,580.
"She's gotten better and better every day," said Morrison, who may be looking at bigger stakes in the future. "I commented to Jeff (Tucker, owner) in the paddock that this was the best she's looked since we got her. I knew she was sitting on a big one today. The question was the distance. It worked out perfect.
"She's the only one that's won a stakes for me, and I've been training five or six years. She's my first graded stakes winner."
Stuck behind a wall of horses in fifth for most of the race, Nelson kept Acey Deucey close to a tepid pace (:23, :46, 1:10 2/5) set by Quite a Ruckus, who was joined in a well-packed group up front by outsiders Last Toots, Bright Mahogany, and Seeking the Ante.
As Quite a Ruckus gave way, Pleasant Chimes took first crack at the leaders along the inside but had trouble getting through. Acey Deucey altered course for room on the outside and had a clear run at Seeking the Ante, who had assumed the lead while three wide near the eighth pole.
Bright Mahogany, making her United States debut after winning a pair of group I races in Puerto Rico, was four wide most of the way and tired to finish seventh.
Acey Deucey, the second choice, paid $9, $4.20, and $3. Seeking the Ante returned $11.80 and $5.80 and closed a great poker hunch exacta of $98.50. Pleasant Chimes was $2.70 to show.
Last Toots, Quite a Ruckus, Secrets Galore, Bright Mahogany, and Toll Taker completed the order. Merrill Gold was scratched.