J'ray, expected to be the prohibitive favorite in the $100,000 Herecomesthebride (gr. IIIT), was scratched instead and Aunt Henny took full advantage, overcoming some early rankness to win the 3-year-old filly stakes Sunday on the Gulfstream Park turf.
Aunt Henny, who took the favorite's mantel at odds of 13-10, was a handful for jockey Javier Castellano for the first half-mile as she fought the jockey's stalking tactics before they took over in the stretch. But she was fully extended in the final sixteenth of a mile as Diamond Spirit charged from the rear of the five-horse field for jockey Mark Guidry.
J'ray had won four races in a row, including three stakes, for trainer Todd Pletcher, and owned a big class edge in what was expected to be her first start since Jan. 1.
Aunt Henny, a $285,000 chestnut daughter of Hennessy
-Miss Patty B. (Grey Dawn II), held on by a half-length in her graded stakes debut for trainer Michael Matz. Diamond Spirit finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of Miss Shop, with Cornelio Velasquez aboard. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile test on a firm course was 1:46 4/5.
Matz said he entered Aunt Henny in the Herecomesthebride because he thought the race could come up light.
"We thought it might be a chance to get a stakes winner," he said.
Lake Alice led the compact field through soft fractions of :24 3/5, :48 1/5 and 1:11 2/5 before falling back quickly in the stretch. Aunt Henny, who broke on top from her rail post and was anxious while taken in hand one length behind the pacesetter, moved up on the far turn and was clear by a couple of lengths in the stretch before digging in late to defeat the closing Diamond Spirit, who was gaining slowly at the end.
"I wanted her to settle down, and she did," Castellano said. "She was relaxed and beautiful. I was worried about getting into a speed duel with Kristi Chapman's horse (Lake Alice). She'd never ran on turf, but she's speedy."
Aunt Henny broke her maiden when switched to the turf at 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream sod to begin the year Jan. 26. She followed that with a sharp second, defeated by a neck, in a first-level turf allowance test at nine furlongs Feb. 13. She has an overall record of 2-2-2 in seven starts and earnings of $103,710 for owner Erdenheim Farm.
"We had worked this filly on turf before she broke her maiden, and she worked great," Marz noted. "We thought she might be just a sprinter, but now it looks like we can get some distance with her on the turf."
Patricia and Christopher Elia bred the winner in Kentucky.
She paid $4.60, $2.60, and $2.10. Diamond Spirit returned $2.80 and $2.10. Miss Shop was $2.10 to show. Musical Charm and Lake Alice trailed.
Besides J'ray, Walklikeanegyptian also scratched.