Centre Court (right) holds off Kitten's Point to win the Honey Fox Stakes.<br><a target="blank" href="http://photos.bloodhorse.com/AtTheRaces-1/At-the-Races-2014/35724761_2vdnSX#!i=3123864099&k=75ZV3wq">Order This Photo</a>

Centre Court (right) holds off Kitten's Point to win the Honey Fox Stakes.
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Coglianese Photos/Lauren King

Centre Court Scores Game Honey Fox Repeat

Smart Strike mare returns from long layoff to nose out Kitten's Point at Gulfstream.

Centre Court, seizing the lead in deep stretch, held off a streaking Kitten's Point by a nose to make it consecutive wins in the $200,000 Honey Fox Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Gulfstream Park turf March 15 (VIDEO).

Making her first start since last August at Saratoga Race Course, Centre Court was a little anxious in her Gulfstream return, breaking through the front of the gate as the field was lining up. But after being reloaded, the multiple graded stakes winner showed good patience under Julien Leparoux, sitting off the pace and eventually wearing down pacesetter Effie Trinket to get clear in deep stretch.

But the race was not over as Kitten's Point, last for much of the race under Edgar Prado, came flying through the drive to finish on even terms with Centre Court. After a lengthy review of the photo, the verdict went to Centre Court, the second choice at odds of 3-1.

Effie Trinket finished third in the field of eight older fillies and mares. The final time for the one-mile test was a sharp 1:33.61 over firm going.

Tapicat, the slight 5-2 favorite, was never a factor after racing near the rear of the pack and finished fifth.

Rusty Arnold trains Centre Court for owner G. Watts Humphrey Jr., who bred the 5-year-old Smart Strike mare with Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust. Impressive winner of the Honey Fox and the Jenny Wiley (gr. IT) at Keeneland in back-to-back efforts last spring, she lost three in a row in New York. Following her eighth-place finish in the Ketel One Ballston Spa (gr. IIT) Aug. 24 at Saratoga, she was found to have pulled a muscle in her back and sent to the sidelines for the remainder of the year.

"She ended up last year on such a bad run, but Dr. (Larry) Bramlage was really sure he had found the problem," Arnold said in reference to the pulled muscle. "It was a tough race to come back in, and when she broke through the gate...I never had a horse run good who breaks through the gate, ever. And she's a good gate horse.

"I just asked (Leparoux) what happened and he said she was standing a little funny and they tried to move her behind. When they tried to move her, she just lunged forward, but it worked out alright."

Centre Court was no factor while sixth early as Effie Trinket, breaking from the rail with Paco Lopez aboard, and Triple Arch showed the way with Triple Arch and Suwannee River (gr. IIIT) winner Parranda stalking on the outside. Fractions were :23.65, :47.17, and 1:10.45 before Effie Trinket, coming out in upper stretch, took command briefly.

Centre Court, advancing wide into fourth coming into the stretch, rallied on the outside to get the lead past the furlong mark and was all out for Leparoux to to just outlast the fast-closing Kitten's Point.

"I was laying about fifth and she was relaxed," Leparoux said. "I had to come a little wide on the second turn, but I really didn't want to get her stopped. Maybe I made her move a touch too early, but she hung onto it."

Winning for the seventh time in 15 lifetime starts with four seconds, Centre Court boosted her bankroll to $909,845. In addition to her two graded stakes wins last year, she won the Regret (gr. IIIT), Lake George (gr. IIT), and Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIIT) as a 3-year-old.

Carrying 119 pounds, Centre Court, who is out of the graded stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare Let, paid $8.40, $4.40, and $3.80. She combined with 7-2 third choice Kitten's Point for a $40.80 exacta. Effie Trinket, making her first start since last November for trainer Rick Violette Jr., put in a big effort for third and paid $4.60 to show.

Arnold said he would like to aim for a repeat in the Jenny Wiley April 12 with Centre Court.

"That's the plan," he said. "She's tired, but when you don't run for five or six months that's expected. But that's the plan. That's where we want to go."

Triple Charm claimed fourth, followed by Tapicat, Parranda, Triple Arch, and Run a Risk. Sonja's Angel was entered for the main track only.