03/23/2007 12:00AM

J'ray vs. Sabellina in get-away day battle


NEW ORLEANS - Fair Grounds's successful 2006-07 season, which has restored the track's standing as one of the more important American winter race meets, comes to a close on Sunday. Better than expected revenues from video poker and simulcasting have allowed Fair Grounds to upgrade the purse structure three times during the meet. The closing day 12-race card includes five stakes, which have attracted some of the meet's top performers.

The feature race is the $100,000, Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. The 121-pound highweight is J'ray, easy winner of the Grade 3 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap over this course Feb. 24.

J'ray, bred in New York by owner Lawrence Goldman, has never been off the board in nine grass starts. A Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old daughter of Distant View, J'ray reeled off four consecutive turf victories between August 2005 and January 2006, including the Jessamine County at Keeneland, the Selima at Laurel, and the Tropical Park Oaks at Calder.

After being off last summer, J'ray finished second in three consecutive graded stakes last fall and winter - beaten a neck, a head, and a neck - before winning the Bayou Breeders' Cup by 4 3/4 lengths last out.

Scarlet Butterfly, the Bayou BC runner-up, will try J'ray again here, but the biggest threat is posed by Sabellina, trained by Charles Simon.

Sabellina has earned more than $500,000 on turf and won the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill last November. After being freshened, she returned last month in the Endeavor Stakes at Tampa Bay but ran poorly. Sue Roberts trained Sabellina in Tampa, and three days after the race she was back in Simon's barn at Fair Grounds.

"Since she's come here she's done well," said Simon. "I'd be surprised if she doesn't run really well in here. Not to denigrate the field, but with the exception of J'ray the rest of them are not really stakes horses."

Like J'ray, Sabellina is a New York-bred, so this could be the first of several showdowns between them this year.

"She's a New York-bred and she's eligible for all those races in New York that she ran in last year," said Simon. "We'll see how she comes out of this race, but if she runs first or second her next stop would likely be either [the Jenny Wiley] at Keeneland or the Distaff Mile at Churchill on Derby Day."