By Brian Bohl
Photo Chelsea Durand
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Mathis Stables’ Bellera showed the form in which she started her career earlier this year, staying just off pacesetter Gold Standard until overtaking her from the outside at the top of the stretch and drawing away a 1 3/4-length winner in the 70th running of the $200,000 Comely for 3-year-old fillies on Friday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Unraced as a juvenile, Bellera finished first or second in each of her first four starts, beginning with a runner-up effort in her debut on May 31 at Gulfstream Park before a maiden-breaking 5 ½-length score on July 6 at Monmouth. Another win at Saratoga Race Course on August 21 and a second-place finish on October 6 at Keeneland set up her stakes debut in the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm on November 2 at the Big A, where she unseated rider Jose Lezcano after being squeezed.
Trainer Todd Pletcher brought back the Bernardini filly, who this time broke alertly from post 3 and stayed in second position behind Gold Standard, who led the eight-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 24.33 seconds and the half in 49.69 on the fast main track.
Bellera, who picked up Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, took command from Gold Standard out of the final turn and fended off favorite Arrifana at the wire, completing 1 1/8 miles in a final time of 1:52.91.
“She won the last race, she just didn’t have a rider on her back,” joked Pletcher, who won his first Comely with Broadway’s Alibi in 2012. “When something like that happens, you’re always concerned if they come back safely, but she came back great and trained great. I felt that the mile and an eighth suited her well and she came back great today.
“We were just focused on this, it’s the last straight 3-year-old filly, two-turn opportunity, so we were looking forward to this,” he added. “It seems like she gets better and better. It’s nice when you have one that can handle the mile and an eighth like she does.”
Off at 9-2, Bellera returned $11.80 on a $2 win wager. She improved to 3-2-0 in six starts and more than doubled her career earnings to $209,960.
“Todd said to do whatever she wants, wherever she’s comfortable. It was going to help her to get a burst out of there,” said Velazquez, who also won the 2015 Comely with Forever Unbridled. “And then, I just sat quietly with her. She settled so nice.
“She was close and comfortable. I just wanted until the quarter pole to let her go,” he added.
“She responded very nice. I hit her once and she went to squeeze the horse inside a little bit. She kind of went away after that.”
Arrifana, trained by Kelly Rubley, entered 4-for-4 in her career and finished three-quarters of a length in front Gold Standard for second in her stakes debut.Afleet Destiny, Classic Fit, Oxy Lady, Lightscameraaction and Stand for the Flag completed the order of finish.
Live race resumes Saturday at Aqueduct with the continuation of the Thanksgiving Racing Festival offering three stakes on the 10-race card, starting with the $125,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship in Race 7 and continuing with the Grade 3, $200,000 Discovery in Race 8 and the Grade 3, $400,000 Long Island in Race 9. First post is 11:50 a.m. Eastern.