It has been almost a year since talented fillies Bayou’s Lassie and J’ray met in the 2006 Frances A. Genter (gr. IIIT). In that bitter duel, Bayou’s Lassie took the early lead and then desperately held off late-charging J’ray by just a head on the Calder turf.

In a nearly identical scenario, the fillies, now both 4-years-old, hooked up once more in the $100,000 My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Dec. 1. The only difference this time was that J’ray caught front-running Bayou’s Lassie at the sixteenth pole and under red-hot Manoel Cruz, held off her rival to take the 1 1/8-mile Calder turf event by three-quarters of a length.

It was the third victory and second graded stakes score of the campaign for J’ray, a daughter of Distant View. She is trained by Todd Pletcher, who took over conditioning duties at the beginning of the year.

A Lawrence Goichman New York homebred, J’ray stopped the clock in 1:48.93. Redaspen was 2 1/4-lengths in back of Bayou’s Lassie for third.

It looked as though Bayou’s Lassie, who has not won since the Frances Genter last December, was going to be able to steal the My Charmer. With Elvis Trujillo aboard, the daughter of Outflanker set easy opening fractions of :24.07, :48.87 and 1:13.17. She was doing it comfortably, leading the field of nine around the final turn, with Annabill and Cozzi Capital stalking the whole way.

But J’ray, who was fifth through six furlongs, had already begun her four-wide move. She had pulled to within second by the time they straightened away and stuck a neck in front at the sixteenth pole. The rivals dueled briefly, but J’ray, on the outside of Bayou’s Lassie, inched away for the victory.

“I didn’t have any specific instructions going into the race,” said Cruz, who won his his 70th race of the meet and is on pace to break the record for victories at a Calder meet. “Our main concern was breaking out of the eleven-hole. Of course I wanted to get over and save ground, so I let her settle in about seven lengths back. 

“On the backside, I wanted to be a little closer since they went so slow up front and she picked up three lengths just like that. She was going so well at the quarter pole that I knew then we would win.”

J’ray was entering off of three consecutive stakes defeats, including her most recent outing, a fourth-place finish in the Oct. 20 Ticonderoga Stakes at Belmont. Earlier in the year she posted victories in the Bayou Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) and Marie G. Krantz Memorial, both at Fair Grounds.

Out of Darshaan mare Bubbling Heights, J’ray has now earned more than $500,000 from 16 lifetime starts, seven of which have been wins.

“She loves Florida and has done very well here,” Goichman said. “She’s had some excuses in a couple of her races when she got beat. We found that she doesn’t handle soft turf, and we think the weights have been a problem a couple of times.

“Today, she gave four pounds to Bayou’s Lassie, but she overcame that to win today. I have about a dozen mares and usually breed them to Kentucky studs, but let them foal in New York to take advantage of that program. She’s the best I’ve ever bred.”

Going off as the second choice, J’Ray paid $9.20 to win. The exacta (11-8) with favorite Bayou’s Lassie was worth $47. The trifecta (11-8-4) returned $330.40

(Chart, Equibase)

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