Centre Court holds serve


G. Watts Humphrey Jr's Centre Court returned to the track following more than a six-month layoff to defend her title by a nose in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The Rusty Arnold trainee broke through the gate prior to the start but that did not seem to deter the five-year-old mare as she held on at the wire in a photo finish for her sixth stakes score.

"I was hoping for that," Arnold said. "She ended up last year on such a bad run, but Dr. (Larry) Bramlage was really sure he had found the problem (pulled muscle). It was a tough race to come back in, and when she broke through the gate...I never had a horse run good who breaks through the gate, ever. And she's a good gate horse.

"I just asked (jockey Julien Leparoux) what happened and he said she was standing a little funny and they tried to move her behind. When they tried to move her, she just lunged forward, but it worked out alright."

Centre Court was reserved off the pace as Effie Trinket led the field through an opening quarter in :23 3/5. Triple Arch was latched onto the outside of the pacesetter and poked a nose in front to post an opening half in :47. Effie Trinket fought off that rival to put up six furlongs in 1:10 2/5 before giving way late.

Centre Court mounted her rally four wide around the far turn and was fanned even wider turning for home. The Kentucky homebred claimed the lead late and got to the wire just in time as Kitten's Point was flying down the stretch, but had to settle for second.

"That was a big run," Arnold said. "She had to come wide. I know she got a little tired. She hadn't run since August, so she had a reason to get tired. I'm very happy with her."

Effie Trinket held on for third by a neck over Triple Charm in fourth. Tapicat, the 5-2 favorite, Parranda, Triple Arch and Run a Risk rounded out the order of finish. Sonja's Angel was scratched.

Centre Court covered a mile in 1:33 3/5 over the firm turf. The 3-1 second choice rewarded her supporters with $8.40 for the score.

"I was laying about fifth and she was relaxed," Leparoux said. "I had to come a little wide on the second turn, but I really didn't want to get her stopped. Maybe I made her move a touch too early, but she hung onto it. She's a nice filly, a great kick, and the main thing is that she came back good.

"Hopefully we'll have a good year with her. Last time she didn't really kick, but this time she did what she usually does."

The daughter of Smart Strike was unplaced in her lone start as a two-year-old and only start to date over the dirt. She switched over to the turf as a sophomore, breaking her maiden at Churchill Downs in her third attempt in 2012 and posted a 100 BRIS Speed rating in the process. The dark bay captured her stakes debut next time out in the Regret and has remained in graded stakes company ever since.

Centre Court headed up north to Saratoga in the summer to win the Lake George, but lost out by a half-length in the Lake Placid. She returned to Kentucky and had to settle for second again in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, before closing out the year with a victory in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere back at Churchill.

Centre Court opened last year with a win in the Honey Fox and captured the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley the following month at Keeneland. She was off the board in her next three starts in the Just a Game, Diana and Ballston Spa. With Saturday's win, Centre Court earned $120,000 to boost her bankroll to $909,845 from a 15-7-4-0 career line.

"That's the plan," Arnold said when asked if the Jenny Wiley would be next. "She's tired, but when you don't run for five or six months that's expected. But that's the plan. That's where we want to go."

Bred by Humphrey in partnership with the Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust, Centre Court is a half-sister to Grade 3 victor Ravel. They are out of the Grade 2-winning A.P. Indy mare Let, who is in turn a half-sister to Eagle Cafe, winner of the 2002 Japan Cup Dirt.

Centre Court's third dam is the Grade 3-winning Damascus mare Doubles Partner, who is a daughter of French Group 3 victress Fabuleux Jane. Other foals of Fabuleux Jane, who was third in the 1977 runnings of the Prix de Diane and Prix Vermeille, include Grade 1-winning stallion Joyeux Danseur and listed-scoring sire Fabuleux Dancer.

Fabuleux Jane is a half-sibling to English and French champion sprinter Ajdal; Grade 1 queen Flying Partner, who ran third in the 1982 Kentucky Oaks; and English Group 1 winner Formidable. Fabuleux Jane is probably best known for being the granddam of champion Arazi and English highweight Noverre, both sires.

This is also the family of Grade 2-winning sire Exchange Rate and Japanese champions Dance in the Mood, Dance Partner and Dance in the Dark.