Centre Court Takes Center Stage With Honey Fox Victory
Trainer Rusty Arnold had no question that Centre Court had more than enough ability and class to capture Saturday’s $150,000 Honey Fox (G2) at Gulfstream Park; and he was pretty certain that she was ready for the challenge in the mile turf stakes for fillies and mares in her first race of 2013.
Centre Court proved to be more than ready, scoring by 1 ¾ lengths with a thoroughly professional performance under jockey Julien Leparoux.
“She had trained spectacularly up at Palm Meadows. We pointed for this all year. We knew it would be a tough one, but it was to get the year started,” Arnold said in the Gulfstream winner’s circle. “We were confident that she’d run well. You don’t know until they do it. It was her first trip against 4-year-olds and older fillies. We’re really happy. She’s pretty special I think.”
The 4-year-old daughter of Smart Strike, who hadn’t run since winning the Mrs. Revere (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 17, rated in fourth along the backstretch, a few lengths off long-shot pacesetter Frontside. Entering the far turn, Leparoux sent the 2-1 favorite after the leader with a three-wide move, and she responded with a strong run to take the lead in mid-stretch and edge away to register her fourth stakes victory.
“She broke well and put me in the race sitting fourth very relaxed. Last year she was a handful to ride, but today she was very nice and relaxed. I think she matured and is better from last year,” said Leparoux, who has been based in Southern California this winter for the first time and made the trip to ride Centre Court. “I love Florida and miss Gulfstream, so it was great to be back and win for sure, and the filly ran great, so I'm even happier. She'll be good this year.”
Arnold was similarly pleased with Centre Court’s seasonal debut.
“We thought there was a lot of speed, but there wasn’t as much speed as we thought, which made us lay a little bit closer,” he said. “She was really relaxed right where he wanted her, kind of where we thought she’d be, only we thought they’d be running quicker. I was happy the whole way.”
Samitar, the 5-2 third choice in the field of eight fillies and mares, closed from well off the pace to finish second under Joel Rosario after a ground-saving trip. Frontside, who was sent to post at 26-1 under Alan Garcia, held third, a neck behind Samitar and three-quarters of a length ahead of Channel Lady.
Centre Court ran the mile in 1:33.18 to post her fifth victory in 10 starts, which included four second-place finishes.
“She hasn’t won a Grade 1 yet; we’ve got to get that done. She’s run Grade 1 races; she hasn’t won one,” Arnold said. “We’re headed for Keeneland and that’s what we hope to get done (in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley on April 13).