J'Ray was second in last year's Suwannee and is the lone contender that enters off a stakes win.

J'Ray was second in last year's Suwannee and is the lone contender that enters off a stakes win.

Jim Lisa Photos

Parity Abounds in Suwannee River H.

Twelve seasoned fillies and mares will compete on the Gulfstream Park turf Feb. 3.

Todd Pletcher and Michael Matz will each saddle a pair of starters Feb. 3 in what looks to be an intriguing matchup of 12 fillies and mares for the $100,000 Suwannee River Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Gulfstream Park turf.

Five starters in the 1 1/8-mile event have graded or group victories on their résumés, including Lawrence Goichman’s New York homebred J’Ray, who was second in last year’s Suwannee and is the lone contender that enters off a stakes win.

Trained by Pletcher, J’Ray came barreling down the stretch in the Dec. 1 My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Calder Race Course turf, to win by three-quarters of a length after being almost four lengths back with a furlong to go. It capped a successful 2007 campaign for the 5-year-old daughter of Distant View, as she captured three stakes and was 3-2-0 from seven starts for the year.

Out of the Darshaan mare Bubbling Heights, J’Ray missed by just a neck in the 2007 Suwannee after leading into deep stretch. John Velazquez rode in that one, but Eibar Coa will get the mount on Sunday and break from post nine. It will be Coa’s first trip aboard J’Ray, who will carry a high weight of 121 pounds.

Pletcher’s other starter will be Braidwood Stable’s My Rachel. The 6-year-old Horse Chestnut mare showed good early speed in the Dec. 15 La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder, but weakened late to finish fourth in the 1 ½-mile test. The turn back in distance might just suit My Rachel, who won back-to-back allowance events in New York in April and June, but has been winless in five consecutive stakes efforts. Velazquez will ride.

Perhaps the horse to beat is Robert Evans’ Dance Away Capote, who has a pair of stakes triumphs in her last five outings since switching to grass. Trained by Barclay Tagg, the 6-year-old Capote mare competed on dirt for most of her first three years of racing, and was moderately successful. Dance Away Capote won five of 16 starts during that time and was fifth in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Tagg moved the Kentucky-bred to turf in May of last year, and it immediately paid dividends, as she won the Duda Stakes at Belmont by 1 ½ lengths. Dance Away Capote, who will be ridden by Javier Castellano, has started four consecutive graded stakes since then, her lone victory coming in the Sept. 15 Noble Damsel Handicap (gr. IIIT), an impressive 4 ½-length score at Belmont where she won with her usual style - off the pace.

Last out, Dance Away Capote was fifth in the one-mile Matriarch (gr. I) Nov. 25 at Hollywood Park, after being too far back at the outset.

“She just got outrun at that distance,” said Robin Smullen, who gallops and handles Dance Away Capote. “They ran away from her on the lead, and they just kept running away. That’s the way mile races are, especially in California. We can’t change her tactics at this point. She’s set in her ways, and we’re going to have to take her off the pace. She’s learned how to place herself, so hopefully the extra distance will help.”

Matz will start Herboriste, a British-bred 5-year-old who was fifth in the La Prevoyante, and Aunt Henny, whose only graded stakes score came March 19 in the Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream.

Also potentially a factor is 5-year-old Monte Crystal, a Peruvian-bred who made her American debut in October, finishing fifth in the Dowager Stakes at Keeneland. Monte Crystal won the Feb. 11 Gran Premio Nacional Augusto Leguia (Per-I) in her final start in Peru.

Green Girl, a French-bred daughter of Lord of Men, will also compete and comes off a second-place finish in the La Prevoyante. She is trained by Christophe Clement, who has won the Suwannee four times.

$100,000 Suwannee River Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 8, 4:42 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Mama I'm Home (FL), 115, Manuel Aguilar
2. Green Girl (FR), 118, Rene R. Douglas
3. My Rachel (KY), 116, John R. Velazquez
4. Dance Away Capote (KY), 119, Javier Castellano
5. Herboriste (GB), 115, Jose Lezcano
6. Monte Crystal (PER), 115, Carlos Alberto Hernandez
7. Aunt Henny (KY), 117, Cornelio H. Velasquez
8. La Dolce Vita (KY), 117, Kent J. Desormeaux
9. J'ray (NY), 121, Eibar Coa
10. Waquoit's Love (MD), 118, Eddie Castro
11. Bel Air Beauty (KY), 119, Edgar S. Prado
12. Eclisse (FR), 115, Elvis Trujillo