Entering the stretch in seventh, the 5-year-old Hard Spun
mare was gamely angled over to inside, where she stormed up the rail. Overtaking battling front-runners Discreet Marq
and Centre Court
in the closing strides, she scored by a half length. In a tight photo for places, Discreet Marq outfinished Abaco
by a nose for second. Emotional Kitten
was a head back back in fourth, with defending Jenny Wiley winner Centre Court
another head behind in the 10-horse field.
Hard Not to Like was jostled at the start but was settled in fifth in the early running after Cloud Scapes
, who was bumped at the start, sprinted to the lead under Alan Garcia. Clipping off fractions of 23.77, :48.51 and 1:13.78 for six furlongs, Cloud Scapes was tracked by Discreet Marq
no more than a length back while Centre Point stalked from fourth and then third.
Discreet Marq made a bid on the turn and led into the stretch where she was soon joined by Centre Court, who edged to a narrow lead to her outside. The two dueled toward the finish line as Hard Not to Like found another gear for Castellano and powered up the rail for the victory.
"(The finish) really was (tight)," Castellano said. "I was concerned a little bit turning for home. But I kept track of the pacemaker (Cloud Scapes) and tried to find the best spot. It was a little tight but this horse has good heart. She came through on the rail, and I squeezed a little bit and she gave me good run at the end. I said when I got through 'I got it!' She's really nice and gave me a good run today."
, the 3-1 favorite, had no rally when called upon by John Velazquez and finished a lackluster eighth.
"She didn't get a great trip," trainer Chad Brown said. "The inside post worked to her disadvantage today. She just didn't have much running room. We'll just draw a line through it and get her back to New York."
Hard Not to Like covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.38 on firm turf for her third stakes victory and second in a graded stakes. Trained by Michael Matz, Hard Not to Like came into the Jenny Wiley off a 2 3/4-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming race Feb. 28 on the Gulfstream Park
She has a 6-2-1 record from 16 career starts that include a triumph in the 2013 Marshua's River Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream and a runner-up finish at Keeneland in the 2012 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack.
Campaigned by breeder Garland Williamson, Ontario-bred Hard Not to Like is the first foal out of the Canadian classic winner Like a Gem
, by Tactical Cat
Hard Not to Like returned $29, $12.20 and $7.20 and Discreet Mark paid $5.40 and $4. The 9-3 exacta was worth $191. Abaco brought $11.40.
Hard Not to Like is the second grade I winner in a week for Darley sire Hard Spun, who is standing in Japan for the first time this season. On April 5, his son Wicked Strong
won the Twinspires.com Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I).