10/17/2007 11:00PM

Ticonderoga: Pletcher thinking J'ray will rebound

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - J'ray was a major disappointment when she took on New York-breds for the first time this summer in the Yaddo Handicap. But trainer Todd Pletcher is confident she will bounce back with a big performance facing similar statebred opposition in Saturday's $150,000 Ticonderoga Handicap at Belmont Park.

J'ray had won five stakes, including the Grade 3 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap, and finished off the board just twice in 13 starts against open company entering the Yaddo at Saratoga on Aug. 18. Despite such an imposing resume, J'ray was never a factor in the nine-furlong Yaddo, finishing sixth as the even-money favorite following a wide trip.

"She had a tough trip, she was wide on the turn, and had to carry 124 pounds," said Pletcher, who acknowledged he had expected better from J'ray in the Yaddo. "But she's gained some weight and looks better coming into this race. With a smoother trip and the break in weights, I expect her to run a lot better on Saturday."

John Velazquez, who rode J'ray in the Yaddo for the first time since a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Suwanee River Handicap at Gulfstream Park six months earlier, gets the return call.

J'ray will be co-highweight at 122 pounds and likely vie for favoritism in the 1 1/8-mile Ticonderoga with Factual Contender, a winner of 3 of her last 4 starts, including the Dynamite Lisa Stakes on Sept. 29.

Factual Contender, a 6-year-old Thunder Puddles mare, showed a new dimension in the one-mile Dynamite Lisa, rallying from near the rear of the pack under Eibar Coa to post a half-length decision over Rewrite. In her two previous victories, Factual Contender had led wire to wire in the 1 1/8-mile Mt Vernon Handicap and 1 1/4-mile Destiny Dance Stakes.

"I was pleased to see her be able to win from off the pace," said Barclay Tagg, who trains Factual Contender for owner Thomas Farone Jr. "And I don't see why she can't win from off the pace stretching back to a mile and one-eighth again if she has to. She's a little bit of a hyper mare and a lot of how she runs depends on the break and the pressure. I just leave it up to Eibar. Last time she got outrun for the lead in the first few jumps, so he decided to take her back, and it worked out fine."

The first seven finishers from the Dynamite Lisa were separated by less than three lengths, and they all return in the Ticonderoga.

Rewrite had trouble and finished second in the Dynamite Lisa, earning a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure. She was followed in order by Half Heaven, Symphony of Psalms, Homerette, Latitude Forty, and Lauren's Tizzy.

Miss Blarney Stone, Follow My Dream, and Borrowing Base complete the Ticonderoga lineup.

The Ticonderoga will be preceded on Saturday's New York Showcase card by the $75,000 Office Miss Stakes for statebred 3-year-old fillies over the Widener turf course.

The one-mile Office Miss drew a full field of 12, led by Jesse's Justice and Tishmeister, who both will carry 123 pounds under the allowance conditions of the race.

Jesse's Justice and Tishmeister return against their own age group and renew their personal rivalry after finishing eighth and ninth against older competition in the Dynamite Lisa. Jessie's Justice also had gotten the better of Tishmeister in both previous meetings, a maiden race on May 27 and the Irish Actress Stakes on Sept. 2.