OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Nicole H returned from her winter break as good if not better than she went into it, sailing through the wind and rain at Aqueduct to take Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Distaff Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths.
Wild News, who set the pace under C.C. Lopez after breaking through the starting gate prior to the official start of the race, held second by two lengths over Kid Kate. Spacy Tracy and Qualia completed the order of finish.
The win was the third straight for Nicole H, who also won the Garland of Roses last Dec. 4 and the Interborough Stakes on New Year's Day -- both over Aqueduct's inner track -- by the same 2 1/2-length margin.
Trainer Mike Hushion and owner John Waken opted to give Nicole H a break following the Interborough in order to point for the more lucrative sprint stakes later this year.
Though Nicole H acted like a fresh horse in the receiving barn and in the paddock, she was more settled once the gates opened, rating in fourth position early under Channing Hill and waiting until the three-eighths pole to challenge for the lead. She took the lead after a half-mile was run in 46.81 seconds.
"She just dragged him up there. I felt awfully good at that point,'' Hushion said. "Everybody else was driving and she's dragging him up.''
Once in front, Nicole H was responsive to Hill's cues to open up in midstretch and despite reacting slightly to the windy conditions in the stretch, Nicole H won handily. Nicole H, a 4-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley, covered the seven furlongs in 1:23.29 and returned $3.90 as the favorite.
"She was fresher than she usually is in the paddock even before the race in the receiving barn she was pretty fresh,'' Hushion said. "When the gates opened, thankfully, that first quarter of a mile she got to settle the way we would have hoped the first time going seven-eighths against these.''
The win helped Hushion end the day on a positive note after being informed that two 2-year-olds he was to get on Saturday died when the horse trailer they were riding in caught fire late Friday night in North Carolina.
"The roller-coaster part of this game,'' he said. "The lows are so low and the highs are so high - terrible thing.''