Diane J. Nelson, a multiple graded stakes-winning rider, who made her mark in the saddle and in front of the camera, died in early July and was memorialized in a service in her native New York July 10. She was 54.
Details were not made available. In a July 9 post on the Moloney Family Funeral Homes of New York website's condolence page, Denise Bisset, who is a relative, asked for understanding that the private viewing would be for immediate family only. There was no cause of death listed, nor an obituary.
"I don't know anything about the circumstances, but I heard from several people she died July 5," said former jockey Abby Fuller, who rode with Nelson at the New England tracks and in New York and New Jersey. "She was always very private and had not been in touch with many people over the last few years."
Nelson rode her first race at Aqueduct Racetrack Feb. 27, 1986, but it was after she quickly moved her tack to the now-demolished Rockingham Park in New Hampshire that she turned heads and garnered national attention as an apprentice. In 1987, while riding almost exclusively at Rockingham and at Suffolk Downs in Boston, she shot up the to the top of the standings with 209 wins.
Midway through 1988, she relocated to New York's colony and she would end the year with 228 victories while the horses she rode bankrolled more than $1.4 million in earnings.
"I rode Diane quite a bit at Rockingham and a few times in New York," said former trainer Barry Roos. "She really was a special woman, gifted as a rider, but so much more. She was a truly nice person. You loved to have her on a horse, she always came to the paddock with an upbeat attitude and really knew how to get along with horses (and people). She got run out of horses that other riders never could. As sentient beings, horses felt her calm demeanor, relaxed under her, and performed at a high level. She will be missed."
In New York, the 5'6", 110-pound Nelson also turned heads for her stunning good looks.
After starring in some television ads for NYRA, she signed a contract with the prestigious and internationally renowned Ford Modeling Agency and enjoyed simultaneous success as a model and as a jockey.
"She was a truly beautiful girl," said Fuller, who rode Triple Tiara winner and Hall of Famer Mom's Command. "But she was also a really good person. We rode together at Rockingham for a time and were friends, but it was when she came to the New York tracks and the Meadowlands that I got to know her better. She was a very good rider, too. She held her own with the big boys in New York, and we know what that's like."
Nelson was among the elite women riders in the sport. She amassed 1,095 winners from 9,905 mounts, which earned $19,106,392, and she won eight graded stakes races. The best horse she rode was 2005 Prioress Stakes (G1) and Comely Stakes (G2) winner Acey Deucy for trainer John Morrison.
Nelson rode her final race at Aqueduct Jan. 20, 2007.
On her Facebook page Fuller posted, "Farewell and rest easy to another friend—female jockey Diane Nelson, gone much too young."
Diane Crump, Patricia Cooksey, and Tammi Piermarini, who are trail blazing members of the tight-knit sisterhood of pioneering female riders, expressed their sympathy underneath Fuller's post.
Hall of Fame riders and Eclipse Award winners Chris McCarron and Edgar Prado, both of whom have deep roots at the New England tracks, also posted condolences and were joined in that sentiment by jockeys Vernon Bush, Alberto Delgado Ramos, Ricahrd DePass, and Willie Lozano, among others.
"Diane was a great rider and a wonderful human being," wrote Piermarini. "So sad."