12/30/2005 1:00AM

Turf prodigy J'ray leads Oaks field


MIAMI - The prototype of a grass star is a horse who takes his or her sweet time to develop. These horses normally sport pedigrees to suggest that peak performance will come with maturity and longer distances, and they usually are brought along slowly and carefully by their trainers.

But with uber-trainer Todd Pletcher, anything is possible. Witness the young New York-bred filly J'ray. Just as quickly as Pletcher spotted her on turf, J'ray ran like an old pro, and as the calendar turns to 2006, she will take a very flashy turf record into the $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks at Calder on Sunday.

, who turns 3 on Sunday, has surged to the forefront of her division by winning all three of her grass starts. After a sixth-place finish in her July 20 career debut on the Belmont main track, she beat statebreds in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Saratoga in August. Then came the impressive stuff: She prevailed against open turf company in her next two starts, the Jessamine County at Keeneland and the Selima at Laurel Park, while earning Beyer Speed Figures of 86 and 85, respectively - the two best Beyers in the Tropical Oaks field.

Bred and owned by Lawrence Goichman, J'ray will be ridden by Pletcher's main man, John Velazquez, in a full field of 12 for the 19th running of the Tropical Oaks, carded as the ninth of 12 Sunday races. Among her main rivals are another Pletcher filly, Capozzene, and the Tony Dutrow duo of Christmas Stocking and Categorize. Neither stable pairing is coupled for wagering purposes.

will be adding blinkers and switching back to the grass after finishing second as the favorite behind another Oaks starter, Stolen Prayer, in the Dec. 3 Three Ring Stakes on the Calder main track.

, claimed in September for $25,000, has really blossomed on grass, having won the Dec. 10 Cherokee Frolic at Calder after capturing her turf debut the previous month against maidens at Laurel.

Categorize, claimed in October for $75,000, made a bold midrace move in the Cherokee Frolic before flattening out to finish fourth. The Oaks will be just her third career start, and improvement over that last race would not be surprising.