Crentre Court comes up aces


G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s homebred Centre Court, one of last year's top sophomore fillies on turf, opened her four-year-old campaign with a convincing victory in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Rusty Arnold and ridden by Julien Leparoux, the 2-1 favorite rolled past pacesetter Frontside in midstretch and completed the firm-turf mile in a stakes-record 1:33.

Centre Court, who had not raced since her two-length conquest of the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs on November 17, was well placed in a ground-saving fourth in the early stages. The aptly-named Frontside bounded to the lead and established fractions of :23 4/5 and :47 1/5. Pianist was her nearest pursuer, followed by Star Torina. Centre Court sat in midpack, while Channel Lady, Samitar, Heavenly Landing and Class Included were content to bide their time.

Nearing the far turn, Leparoux gave Centre Court her signal, and she smoothly advanced. The royally-bred daughter of Smart Strike angled off the fence, easily came around Pianist, and drew up nearly abreast of Frontside through six furlongs in 1:10. Frontside managed to stay in front turning in the lane, but primarily because Centre Court was covering more ground out wide.

As they straightened up in the stretch drive, however, Centre Court's momentum was irresistible. The favorite drew off by 1 3/4 lengths and rewarded her backers with $6.20, $3.40 and $2.80.

"She had trained spectacularly up at Palm Meadows," Arnold said. "We pointed for this all year. We knew it would be a tough one, but it was to get the year started. We were confident that she'd run well. You don't know until they do it. It was her first trip against four-year-olds and older fillies. We're really happy. She's pretty special, I think.

"We thought there was a lot of speed," the trainer added, "but there wasn't as much speed as we thought, which made us lay a little bit closer. She was really relaxed right where we wanted her, kind of where we thought she'd be, only we thought they'd be running quicker. I was happy the whole way."

"She broke well and put me in the race sitting fourth, very relaxed," Leparoux said. "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. 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."

Samitar closed smartly to grab the runner-up spot by a neck from Frontside. Another three-quarters of a length back came Channel Lady in fourth. Pianist faded to fifth, and Class Included, Heavenly Landing and Star Torina concluded the order of finish. Namaskara was scratched.

Chad Brown, trainer of Samitar and Pianist, commented on their performances.

"Pianist was in a good position -- she didn't have any excuse, she just didn't fire today," Brown said. "The other filly, Samitar, I thought was too far back, but she got the race she needed. We'll move forward after this."

Centre Court's fourth career stakes score improved her mark to 10-5-4-0, $566,012. Her lone unplaced effort came in her debut sprinting on dirt as a juvenile. Not seen again until early in her three-year-old season, when she switched to turf, and stretched out to two turns, Centre Court twice missed narrowly before breaking through with a 4 3/4-length maiden tally at Churchill.

The Kentucky-bred dark bay took an immediate class test in the Grade 3 Regret, passed with flying colors, and has remained in graded stakes company ever since. Centre Court headed to Saratoga, where she made it three in a row in the Grade 2 Lake George. Just denied late by Stephanie's Kitten in the Grade 2 Lake Placid at the Spa, she again settled for second behind the front-running Dayatthespa in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. Centre Court capped the year on a high note in the Mrs. Revere.

"She hasn't won a Grade 1 yet -- we've got to get that done," Arnold said. "She's run Grade 1 races; she hasn't won one. We're headed for Keeneland and that's what we hope to get done (in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley on April 13)."

The Jenny Wiley is also on the agenda for Samitar.

"I'm going to go back to the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland with her," Brown said. "She'll run good there."

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 Group 1 Prix de Diane and Group 1 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 Grade 1 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.