Centre Court Takes Center Stage in Saturday’s $200,000 Honey Fox
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Centre Court posted a dominating victory in the 2013 Honey Fox (G2) at Gulfstream Park in the midst of a three major stakes-race winning streak that cemented her standing as one of the very best turf fillies in the country.
The daughter of Smart Strike had completed her 2012 season with a two-length romp in the Mrs. Revere (G2) at Churchill Downs before starting off her 2013 campaign with a 1 ¾-length triumph in the Honey Fox and a two-length victory in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland.
Trainer Rusty Arnold is looking forward to Centre Court’s title defense in Saturday’s $200,000 Honey Fox and hoping that the 5-year-old mare can run back to last year’s performance while returning from a six-month layoff in the mile turf stakes.
“It will be exciting for me if I get her back to her top level,” said Arnold, whose Grade 1-winning mare hasn’t run since finishing off-the-board at Saratoga last August. “Her training has been great. She’s always been easy to train and easy to deal with. Her works have been good. She hasn’t had any setbacks all winter. We’ve been pointing for this race and everything has gone good so far.”
G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s homebred, who was first or second in her first 10 starts on turf, followed up her victories in the 2013 Honey Fox and Jenny Wiley with a trio of off-the-board finishes, including a career worst eighth in the Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga last August.
“She ran in a race on Belmont Day and she finished fourth after a rough trip. The track was very deep and evidently she came out of the race not doing very well in her rear end. We never did find a specific problem. I raced her back at Saratoga – obviously I thought she was doing well, but she didn’t run well. I thought she was doing well for the rest of the month and tried her one last time. She wasn’t right,” Arnold said. “I sent her to Dr. (Larry) Bramlage and he detected that she had a muscle pull in her back. It wasn’t torn; it was just pulled. We gave her a little time to recover from it. We knew she was going to miss the entire fall. We just kicked her out for the entire fall and she didn’t come back to me until December,” added Arnold, who also entered Run a Risk in the Honey Fox.
Centre Court’s owner opted to keep his mare in training instead of sending her to the breeding shed, but her future as a broodmare may not be that far off.
“Mr. Humphrey wants to keep her running. He would have kept her going no matter what. Whether she runs the entire year depends on how she does on Saturday and the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland,” Arnold said. “If he thinks she’s at the top of her game, we’ll race her for her entire 5-year-old year. If she shows that she isn’t going to come back to herself, then she’ll probably be bred. She has a lot going on these two races.”
Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the 2013 Honey Fox, is slated to ride Centre Court in the 32nd running of the stakes for fillies and mares which drew nine entries, including multiple stakes winner Parranda.
The Rodolfo Garcia-trained 5-year-old mare has been victorious in four consecutive stakes races over the Gulfstream Park turf course, including the $150,000 Suwannee River (G3) on Feb. 8.
The daughter of English Channel was allowed to set an extremely slow pace in the 1 1/8-mile stakes before kicking clear in the stretch to win by two lengths.
“The fractions of the last three eighths were really something, really fast,” Garcia said. “Hopefully, she can keep going. She’s been training well.”Parranda ran the last three-eighths in a blazing 33.74 seconds, including a final eighth in 11.14 seconds, under jockey Jose Lezcano, who will be at Oaklawn Saturday. Elvis Trujillo, who won aboard Parranda in her first of four straight stakes wins at Gulfstream before being sidelined by injury, has the mount.Tapicat was entered in the Honey Fox in search of her fourth victory without a loss over the Gulfstream turf.
The Bill Mott-trained 4-year-old filly, who broke her maiden and won an allowance last season, scored a triumph in the $75,000 Voodoo Dancer overnight stakes on Jan.1 before heading to Santa Anita for a third-place finish in the Buena Vista (G2) on Feb. 17.
Kitten’s Point, although not yet nearly as accomplished as Parranda or Tapicat, has also shown a distinct fondness for the Gulfstream turf, winning twice from three starts, visiting the winner’s circle following a victory in the 2013 Herecomesthebride (G3) and, more recently, a late-closing allowance triumph on Feb. 8.
“I thought it was quite impressive. The way she was training, I was hoping for a big effort like that,” trainer Graham Motion said. “Obviously, we liked her last year when we had to stop with her.”
Before her 2014 debut in the mile allowance, the 4-year-old daughter of Kitten’s Joy had been idle since finishing a distant third in the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland last April.
“We had a very odd issue with her that we never got to the bottom of. She just came back one day when she was just not quite right behind,” Motion said. “We just ended up giving her some time off to get over it. She’s been fine.”
Regular rider Edgar Prado has the return mount.
Effie Trinket, who finished her 2013 campaign with a second-place finish in the Mrs. Revere at Churchill, is set to make her 2014 debut in the Honey Fox for trainer Rick Violette. Triple Arch, who finished third in the Sabin (G2) last time out and won a turf allowance at Gulfstream this season, and Triple Charm, a recent allowance winner, round out the field of expected starters. Sonja’s Angel was a main track-only entry and will only run in the event that the race is moved off the turf.