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Hard Not to Like gets G1 win

JENNY WILEY | PURSE: $300,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 1 | 1 1/16 MILES (TURF)

Hillsbrook Farm's homebred Hard Not to Like speared through late on the inside in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, notching her first top-level victory at odds of 13-1. Under Javier Castellano, the Michael Matz mare denied Discreet Marq by a half-length in a blanket finish.

Hard Not to Like was leaving her poor showing in the 2013 Jenny Wiley well behind. She crossed the wire last of nine that day [later elevated to eighth via the disqualification of runner-up Daisy Devine], beaten nearly 11 lengths. But the gray daughter of Hard Spun showed a terrific closing kick to get the job done in this second try.

In the opening strides, Cloud Scapes went to the front, stalked by Discreet Marq through splits of :23 ⅗ seconds and :48 ⅗ seconds on the firm turf. Defending champion Centre Court settled into an outside spot just off the pace, covering up Hard Not to Like, who was reserved just about in midpack down the backstretch.

Discreet Marq ratcheted up the pressure through six furlongs in 1:13 ⅗ and took over from a weakening Cloud Scapes turning for home. But Centre Court soon engaged her in an attempt to repeat, and they battled down the lane.

Just when it appeared that Discreet Marq was staving Centre Court off, Hard Not to Like was angling to the inside for running room. She produced a fine turn of foot in the final yards to complete 1 1/16 grassy miles in 1:42 ⅕ and rewarded her backers with a $29 win payout.

Abaco finished fast on the outside for third, just missing the runner-up spot by a diminishing nose. Emotional Kitten headed Centre Court for fourth. Cloud Scapes tired to fifth, followed by Kitten's Point, 3-1 favorite Stephanie's Kitten, Fitful Skies and Class Included.

Hard Not to Like's biggest career win improved her line to 16-6-2-1, $721,671. Originally trained by Gail Cox, the Ontario-bred defeated males in the 2011 Cup and Saucer at Woodbine and ended her 2011 season with a fifth to Stephanie's Kitten in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Hard Not to Like reappeared with a second in the 2012 Ashland over Keeneland's Polytrack, in which Stephanie's Kitten was third. After a sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, she underwent surgery for a knee chip that sidelined her for the remainder of her three-year-old campaign.

Subsequently transferred to Matz, Hard Not to Like made a winning return in the 2013 Marshua's River at Gulfstream Park, then endured a six-race losing streak. Her best efforts in defeat were placings in the May 18 Gallorette and August 24 Ballston Spa. Freshened in the wake of a seventh in the October 6 Spinster here on Polytrack, Hard Not to Like signaled her well-being with a 2 ¾-length allowance tally at Gulfstream February 28. With the Jenny Wiley to her credit, she has now won two in a row for the first time since her juvenile days.

Hard Not to Like was bred by Hillsbrook's Garland Williamson. She is out of multiple stakes heroine Like a Gem, a Tactical Cat mare who is a half-sister to stakes scorer Win and Reign and the Grade 3-placed duo of Cool Gator and Ruby Lips. This family is also responsible for Grade 1 victor Firery Ensign, unbeaten Grade 2 star Run Away and Hide and Italian classic winner Davide Umbro.