01/11/2006 12:00AM

Hennig's pair find better spot

A fast pace would greatly enhance the late-running Freeroll's chances in Saturday's Affectionately Handicap.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - In the right spot, the speedy After the Tone and the late-running Freeroll make up a nice entry. Last month's Ladies Handicap may not have been the right spot.

"It was a little too far for After the Tone and there was not enough pace for Freeroll," said Seth Gregory, assistant to trainer Mark Hennig.

Though neither horse was disgraced in the Ladies, the 1 1/4-mile distance may have proven to be a furlong or so too far. After being part of the pace, After the Tone faded to fourth, beaten three lengths. Meanwhile, Freeroll may have been compromised by the modest pace when finishing fifth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths.

Saturday, After the Tone and Freeroll will cut back to 1 1/16 miles in the Affectionately Handicap at Aqueduct.

The 5-year-old After the Tone had a solid season in New Jersey, winning an allowance race at Monmouth Park and the Long Look Handicap at The Meadowlands. In the Honey Bee Handicap at The Meadowlands, After the Tone lost it in the paddock and finished last.

Gregory explained that After the Tone is a nervous filly, and on that night she didn't handle the lights.

"She got a little bit worked up," Gregory said.

Freeroll also enjoyed success in New Jersey, winning the Lighthouse Stakes at Monmouth, but may have been compromised by the slow pace in the Long Look. She raced closer to the pace than she prefers when beaten only a head by Strategy in the Real Prize Stakes at Aqueduct before running in the Ladies.

"Freeroll is always guaranteed good pace to come after at Monmouth, and [After the Tone] has a front-running style that works over that track too," Gregory said.

Bohemian Lady, beaten a head in the Ladies, will be the one to beat in the Affectionately. Others pointing to the race are Amazing Buy, Flaming Heart, Sassy Love, Sticky, and Strategy.

Acey Deucey in sharp move

The Grade 1 winner Acey Deucey, who finished seventh in last month's Garland of Roses, drilled a sharp

five furlongs in 59.45 seconds Wednesday morning over Belmont Park's training track. The move, done in company with the 4-year-old maiden Quiet Rendition, was the fastest of 21 at the distance.

Trainer John Morrison said he was looking for a sharp work from Acey Deucey, who won the Grade 1 Prioress last July but wrenched an ankle when off the board in the Test in August. The Garland of Roses has been her only start since.

Morrison kept Acey Deucey out of the Interborough Handicap in part because he wasn't happy with how Acey Deucey was doing. He is hopeful those issues are behind the filly.

"I believe so," Morrison said. "The proof will be in the pudding the next time she runs."

When and where Acey Deucey will run is not clear. Morrison was pointing Acey Deucey to the $225,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on Feb. 18. But with a case of equine herpes being diagnosed at Pimlico, Morrison is not sure he wants to send his horse to Maryland.

"I don't know how that's going to affect everything," Morrison said. "I know [the race] is five weeks away. I'm hopeful they don't have any more cases of it. You don't want to put anything at risk. I want to do what's best for her."

Morrison said the $65,000 Correction Handicap here on Feb. 4 "is a distinct possibility."

Morrison, who was critical of the training surface at Belmont a few weeks ago, said Wednesday he is ``very happy with the track now and complimented track superintendent John Passero for addressing horsemen's concerns.

Merrill Gold heads Friday feature

Last Jan. 13, Merrill Gold won a $25,000 claiming race by seven lengths over the inner track. Running in that race makes her eligible for Friday's Videogenic, a starter handicap for fillies who started for a tag of $25,000 or less in 2004-05.

Merrill Gold has been facing better stock than $25,000 claimers since that win. She won an allowance race at Belmont in May and another one in July. Two starts back, she was beaten a neck in a second-level allowance race when saddled with the outside post in a nine-horse field. Friday, she has the outside post in a 10-horse field.

Snitch, the horse Merrill Gold beat last Jan. 13, is back in this field. Snitch is coming off a win for $40,000 two back and a second-place finish in a starter handicap last out.

Sugar Punch retired

Sugar Punch, the 2004 co-champion New York-bred 3-year-old filly, has been retired from racing, her owners, the International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Inc., announced on Wednesday.

Sugar Punch, who counted New York Yankees manager Joe Torre among her owners, was not able to withstand the rigors of training following the second of two knee surgeries in her career. She hadn't run since winning the Iroquois Handicap on Oct. 23, 2004, at Belmont Park.

"Her biggest problem in trying to come back was that she was always too aggressive and always wanting to do more than what she was ready for in the morning," trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said. "You have to be very careful when they come back from an operation and take baby steps with them, but as she always was, she was very tough to control in the morning. With her aggressive nature, it put a lot of pressure on her legs, and ultimately she wouldn't have held up."

Sugar Punch, a 5-year-old daughter of K.O. Punch, had a record of 6-1-0 from seven starts for earnings of $265,120. She went 6 for 6 in 2004, including three statebred stakes victories.