The 4-year-old homebred daughter of Smart Strike was starting for the first time since winning the Nov. 17 Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs for G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and trainer Rusty Arnold. She added the Honey Fox to her tally of three grade II wins, the other coming last summer in the Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course.
"She had trained spectacularly up at Palm Meadows," Arnold said. "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 4-year-olds and older fillies. We're really happy. She's pretty special, I think."
Off to a good start under jockey Julien Leparoux in a field of eight for the one-mile turf test, Centre Court was taken back to fourth on the rail about 3 1/2 lengths off the lead of 26-1 shot Frontside. That one strolled through opening fractions of :23.99 and :47.25 with a 1 1/2-length lead over Pianist; Star Torina raced 2 1/2 lengths back in third early on.
"She broke well and put me in the race sitting fourth very relaxed," Leparoux remarked. "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."
Headed for the final turn after three-quarters in 1:10.08 with 1 1/2 lengths to make up on the leader, Leparoux angled Centre Court to the outside and began the charge for home three-wide. The dark bay filly ranged up to challenge the tiring frontrunner and took the lead approaching the furlong mark in 1:21.49, then leveled off to safely claim the victory. Final time for the distance was 1:33.18 on firm going.
Samitar, who last ran fourth in the Oct. 13 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland, kicked in strongly from fifth at the quarter pole to get second in a strong comeback effort and will now head to Keeneland's 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley (gr. IT) on April 16. Frontside held for third two lengths back.
Favored at 2-1, Centre Court paid $6.20, $3.40, and $2.80 while 5-2 Samitar brought $4 and $3.40 and Frontside returned $5.60. Channel Lady, Pianist, Class Included, Heavenly Landing, and Star Torina completed the order of finish. Namaskara scratched.
Arnold said the next start for Centre Court will come in the Jenny Wiley as well. Last year she was second by two lengths to Dayatthespa in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.
"She hasn't won a grade I yet," the trainer said. "We're headed for Keeneland and that's what we hope to get done."
Centre Court was bred in Kentucky by the G. Watts Humphrey Jr. & Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust - 2008. Out of the grade II-winning A.P. Indy mare Let, she now has four wins and four seconds from nine starts, with earnings of $476,012.