Lawrence Goichman's odds-on choice J'ray, knocking on the door since November, earned her first graded stakes win in a romp over eight rivals in the $118,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares on the Fair Grounds turf Saturday.
The New York homebred J'ray, a 4-year-old Distant View filly trained by Todd Pletcher, came into Saturday's race with three consecutive tight second-place finishes in graded stakes events.
Ridden by six-time Fair Grounds leader Robby Albarado for the first time Saturday, the chestnut raced off the rail while slightly off an extremely slow pace, seized the lead mid-stretch, and drew off to a 4 3/4-length victory as the 7-10 pick. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event contested under threatening skies was 1:52 2/5 on firm going.
“She got in a great spot,” said Albarado. “She was able to relax in a good position. When I called on her, she overpowered the speed.”
Scarlet Butterfly, sent off at 26-1 under James Graham, rallied on the outside to nose pacesetter Candy Ball (:24 3/5, :50 1/5, 1:14 3/5), ridden by Corey Lanerie, for second.
J'ray was beaten a neck in her last race, the Suwannee River Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Gulfstream lawn, after leading in the stretch three weeks ago. Prior to that she lost the Dec. 30 Frances Genter (gr. IIIT) at Calder by a head and the Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs by a neck Nov. 18.
She now owns a 5-3-1 mark in 11 starts with earnings of $360,218.
“We arrived early Thursday (from south Florida) and jogged her that morning,” said Anthony Tamburino, traveling assistant to Pletcher. “She pretty much did all the work after that. We were only concerned about the weather.”
Out of the Darshaan mare Bubbling Heights, J'ray paid $3.40, $2.40, and $2.10. The Sam-Son homebred Scarlet Butterfly returned $12.80 and $6.40 in her graded stakes debut for trainer Mark Frostad, completing a $40 exacta. Candy Ball, also making her first graded appearance for local trainer Andrew Leggio Jr., was $3.60 to show.
My Three Sisters finished fourth, followed by Fiery Dancer and Elle Runaway -- who finished in a dead heat for fifth, Cat Alert, Elsie Lucille, and Aly's Vow.
Baghdaria, Christmas Lily and Royal Copenhagen all scratched.