Centre Court Set for Season Debut in Honey Fox
G. Watts Humphrey, Jr.’s Kentucky homebred 4-year-old filly Centre Court ranked among the nation’s best of her crop on turf last year with three Graded stakes victories for trainer Rusty Arnold, and comes out for a new campaign as the horse to beat in a talented field of nine fillies and mares drawn for Saturday’s $150,000 Honey Fox Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Centre Court’s regular rider Julien Leparoux will be flying in from California for the mount in the one-mile turf test as she makes her first start since winning the Mrs. Revere Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 17 following a good runner-up effort in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland in mid-October.
A daughter of Smart Strike out of Graded stakes-winner Let, by A.P. Indy, Centre Court ran eight times last year with four wins and four seconds, beginning with a head loss when second in a maiden special over the Gulfstream course on March 3. She went on capture the Regret Stakes (G3) at Churchill in mid-June and the Lake George Stakes (G2) at Saratoga in late July.
“She’s right on schedule,” said Arnold. “She’s doing great and this is a perfect spot at a mile to bring her back and set her up for the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, which is out first major target for her this year,” referring to the $300,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1) to be run on blue Grass Day, Saturday, April 13.
“We considered bringing her back in the Hillsborough (last Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs), but I didn’t want to her to go a mile-and-an-eighth in her first race back. She won two Grade 2s last year, but we really want to get her a Grade 1. She runs her race every time. She’s been particularly satisfying having trained her dam before her. (Let was a Grade 1-placed winner of $600,000).”
Trainer Chad Brown holds a strong hand in the Honey Fox with two solid contenders in Hidden Brook and Dan Zucker’s 4-year-old Pianist to be ridden by jockey John Velazquez and Martin Schwartz’ 4-year-old English-bred Samitar with Joel Rosario in the saddle.
Pianist is a chestnut daughter of More Than Ready and a sharp allowance winner over the course and one-mile distance on Feb. 7 as the favorite in her first start since disappointing when fourth as the odds-on choice in the Stardusk Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 21. In fact, Pianist has been favored in all eight of her career starts, winning four with a second and a third.
Samitar is the more accomplished of Brown’s two runners as the winner of the Garden City Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in mid-September before a fourth-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland last out on Oct. 13. The daughter of Rock of Gibraltar was a classic winner last year, capturing the Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1) at The Curragh before joining Brown in New York last summer.
James Scatourchio and J.J. Pletcher’s 4-year-old Channel Lady will be making her third Graded stakes start at the meet for leading trainer Todd Pletcher with leading jockey Javier Castellano to ride after they teamed up to finish second by a half-length in the Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) on Jan. 5 and win the Suwannee River Stakes (G3) by three-quarters of a length over Abaco last out on Feb. 9.
A daughter of Scatuorchio’s 2007 Eclipse champion turf horse English Channel, Channel Lady won three of four starts with a second last year following a fifth-place debut in an ‘off the turf’ debut here in December of 2011. One-two in all six starts since then, Channel Lady won the Stardusk Stakes at Aqueduct in November with Pianist fourth.
Almost certain to insure a fast pace up front in the Honey Fox will be the presence of Town and Country Farm’s 5-year-old Frontside with jockey Alan Garcia named to ride for trainer Eduardo Caramori. The daughter of War Front won turf stakes on turf at Indiana Downs and Mountaineer Park last year and makes her third stakes start at this meet.
Frontside’s stakes victories came in wire-to-wire fashion. In her two starts here this meet she set the pace in both, leading the field to mid-stretch of the South Beach Stakes on Dec.9 before tiring to eighth, although beaten only 2 ½ lengths for it all by the winner. She came back to finish fifth in the Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) last out on Jan. 5.
“That’s her style to go to the front,” said Caramori. “She was a multiple stakes- winner last year and my job is to get some Graded stakes credentials for her this year. I know this is a tough spot, but she should move forward with the two races here behind her.” Frontside hadn’t run since Sept. 8 before the South Beach.
Completing the field for the Honey Fox are Brittlyn Stable’s Class Included, Francisco Torres; Lally Stable’s Heavenly Landing, Corey Lanerie; Donald Adam’s Star Torino, J.L. Castanon; and Elisabeth Alexander’s Namaskara, Edgar Prado.