03/17/2006 12:00AM

Only six fillies challenge J'ray in turf stakes

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The fact that only seven of the 24 3-year-old fillies nominated for Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream Park entered the race speaks volumes for the respect local horsemen have given to J'ray, who figures to go off at odds of 1-2 or less.

A New York-bred daughter of Distant View, has won all four starts since trainer Todd Pletcher switched her to the turf following a sixth-place finish in her career debut last summer at Belmont Park. Three of J'ray's four wins have come against open stakes competition, including come-from-behind victories in Keeneland's Jessamine and Selima at Laurel to conclude her 2-year-old campaign and Calder's Tropical Park Oaks to open her 3-year-old season on Jan. 1.

Pletcher said immediately after the Tropical Oaks that J'ray would be given some time off during the winter because of a lack of suitable spots for a 3-year-old filly turf specialist on the Gulfstream stakes schedule. He pointed her for the 1 1/8-mile Herecomesthebride and remained true to his word while keeping J'ray on a steady work schedule at Palm Meadows since mid-February.

"I didn't want to use her up earlier in the winter in prep races where the money wasn't so good," said Pletcher, who trains J'ray for owner-breeder Lawrence Goichman. "She really didn't need the rest per se, but we had to wait for this race. She's run well after a freshening before, so it should work out fine."

John Velazquez, who rode J'ray for the first time in the Tropical Oaks, will again have the assignment in the Herecomesthebride. J'ray must carry high weight of 122 pounds under the allowance conditions of the event, conceding her six rivals from two to six pounds.

is the only other stakes winner in the field, having captured Calder's J j'sdream Stakes over a sloppy track last October. She will be making her turf and two-turn debut on Sunday.

Other challengers to J'ray are and Miss Shop. Aunt Henny comes off a game second-place finish going nine furlongs under first-level allowance conditions on Feb. 13 and has shown marked improvement since trainer Michael Matz switched her to the grass at the beginning of her 3-year-old campaign.

Miss Shop, whom trainer Allen Jerkens sends out in the Herecomesthebride along with Diamond Spirit, was a seven-length allowance winner in her grass debut in November. A daughter of Deputy Minister, Miss Shop finished fourth after challenging for command around the final turn in the Gaily Gaily Stakes here on Feb. 19.