Ridden by Julien Leparoux for owner G. Watts Humphrey and trainer George “Rusty” Arnold, Centre Court won her third straight race by conquering seven others including Samitar, who took the Group 1 Irish 1,000 Guineas this year, and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten.
On the heels of her victory in the Grade 3 Regret last month at Churchill Downs, Centre Court moves to the upper ranks of 3-year-old turf fillies in the country.
“It got a little rough in the stretch, but she got through,” Arnold said in the winner’s circle after Centre Court ran the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:41.71. “She’s smart, she’s brave, she always fights her way through.”
Centre Court, by Smart Strike out of the Grade 2 stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare Let, came from 11 lengths back in her fourth start to break her maiden in May at Churchill Downs. She raced up close up to the lead when victorious in the Regret but wanted no part of the pace in the Lake George.
After bumping with Dancing Solo near the first turn, Leparoux elected to lay back and settle Centre Court near the inside, in sixth place, 12 ½ lengths back.
“I left it to [Leparoux] because she’s laid close before, but he sensed those two [leaders] were doing too much,” Arnold said.
When the field turned for home, Medolina inherited the lead, but Centre Court, eventual runner-up Better Lucky and Samitar all ganged up on her and fought it out. The favorite, Stephanie’s Kitten, meantime, under comebacking rider John Velazquez, was bottled up inside in the stretch and unable to get going until too late.
“I thought we had a good trip all the way to the eighth pole,” Velazquez said. “I made the decision to try to split horses, and the horse in front came out. I ended up behind heels and had to steady and go back inside, and we lost the race right there.”
Centre Court drifted slightly outside when asked by Leparoux, found herself sandwiched between Better Lucky and third-place finisher Samitar and prevailed by a neck in a blanket finish. Better Lucky was a head in front for second and it was another head back to Stephanie’s Kitten.
“She’s small but pretty tough,” said Leparoux, who won three races on the card. “It was a rough race. There was a little bit of bumping. She stayed there and still finished up to win the race.”
The victory was Centre Court’s third in six starts with two seconds. Her only finish out of the exacta came in her debut at 4 ½ furlongs on the dirt. The $120,000 winner’s purse increased her lifetime earnings to $239,467.
“We are going to look at the [Grade 2, $200,000 Woodford Reserve] Lake Placid [on Aug. 19 at Saratoga], but the ultimate goal is the Queen Elizabeth [at Keeneland]. That’s our home track,” Arnold said.
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.
Centre Court/NYRA photo