Jockey Allen Stacy had won races on Kerygma and D'Youville Nurse this Laurel meeting, so when he had a choice between the two for yesterday's $44,025 Francis Scott Key Stakes, he was faced with a dilemma.

D'Youville Nurse was coming off a victory in Laurel's Contessa Handicap, and Kerygma had won two of her last three stakes races. Each filly was assigned 122 pounds, and each had trained well up to the race.

Stacy selected Kerygma, then chose the best possible way to ride her. He kept her inside early, then burst through on the rail and held off D'Youville Nurse -- with jockey Vince (Jimbo) Bracciale Jr. -- to win by just more than a length. Night Owl Special, 28-to-1 long shot in the field of six, made a late run for third but finished nine lengths behind the winner.

"It was really a tough decision," Stacy said of his mount selection. "{Kerygma's} Barclay Tagg and {D'Youville Nurse's} Carlos Garcia are two of my favorite trainers. But I knew that Kerygma will give you that one spurt for an eighth of a mile, and I was hoping that would be good enough."

The 6-to-5 favorite, Kerygma broke from post 1 and stayed on the rail as Miss Red And Gold took a meager lead over Diligent Friend. Bracciale had D'Youville Nurse (5 to 2) in contention on the outside, about a length behind Kerygma.

Midway through the far turn, D'Youville Nurse made a bid for the lead three-wide, the kind of move she used in winning the Contessa. Stacy, meanwhile, was advancing Kerygma along the rail; he took hold of the filly momentarily, then gunned her between the rail and Miss Red And Gold.

The anticipated spurt was well-timed, and it denied D'Youville Nurse the lead. Kerygma surged to the front, extended her advantage to two at the top of the stretch, and outfinished D'Youville Nurse. She covered seven furlongs in 1:25 4/5 on a fast track.

"I never was without plenty of space," Stacy said. "It was just a matter of when I felt like going with her."

Such spontaneity had worked against Stacy in Kerygma's previous start, the 1 1/8-mile Carousel Handicap. A horse who had unseated her rider ranged up on Kerygma's right flank near the far turn; Stacy, seeing only the mare's gray nose, thought it was that of a quality rival. Reacting quickly, he asked Kerygma for a move, and she accelerated to the lead turning for home. But the move left Kerygma with little in reserve, and she wound up third.

"That wasn't Allen's fault," said Tagg, who is second in victories (25) and among the leaders in win percentage (27.5) for the meet. "She can win up to a mile or a mile and a sixteenth, but she got a little late when she tried to go a mile and an eighth."

Tagg used the Francis Scott Key as a prep for the $125,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Feb. 14. The seven-furlong race is one of two $100,000-plus races on Laurel's winter calendar, along with the General George Stakes.

"We owe it to her and we owe it to the people to send her out in the Fritchie," Tagg said. "We've got to go after the big money sometime."