Out of the money in her past two starts, grade I winner Centre Court is looking to make it back to the winner's circle in the $250,000 Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 24.
She will face worthy rivals, with Miz Ida and Somali Lemonade looking to capture their first grade II, Hungry Island going after a first 2013 stakes score, and Diana Stakes (gr. IT) winner Laughing seeking a third straight graded stakes win.
Sent out by trainer George "Rusty" Arnold, G.W. Humphrey's Centre Court has the most graded stakes wins under her girth (five) among the Ballston Spa's field of nine. Her last score was three starts back in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland in April, one of three wins she has at the Ballston Spa distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Last time out the 4-year-old Smart Strike filly was fifth in the Diana behind Laughing, and two starts back came in fourth behind Hungry Island in the Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
"I could throw it out," Arnold said of the Just a Game effort, "but I couldn't throw out the last one (the Diana). It would be easy to sit here and throw it out, but I can't because it's two races in a row that weren't perfect. I think she's had a great month here. Everything's gone the right way with her, and she needs to get back on track."
John Velasquez has the call on Centre Court, who will break from post 4 with co-highweight of 123 pounds that she shares with Laughing.
Richard Santulli's Irish-bred Dansili mare Laughing comes in off her July 27 victory in Saratoga's grade I Diana. Since crossing the Atlantic two years ago, the bay 5-year-old has achieved a record of 4-1-2 from nine starts, including wins in the Eatontown Handicap (gr. IIIT) in June and last year's Taylor Made Matchmaker Stakes (gr. IIIT), both at Monmouth Park.
Trainer Alan Goldberg tabs Jose Lezcano to ride Laughing, who breaks from the rail.
Second in last year's edition of the Ballston Spa, Emory Hamilton's homebred Hungry Island last visited the winner's circle three starts back in an allowance race at Keeneland in April. Since then she's registered a second in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IIT) over the Louisville lawn and a third in Belmont's Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT).
Victorious two summers ago in the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes (gr. IIT) at the Spa, Hall of Fame trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey will send out Hungry Island. "I think if she runs her race, she's probably better than the fillies that are in there," McGaughey said. "She's one I needed to get away from the races for a while. When I saw those fields and therapy units and the Tapeta track [at Fair Hill], I decided to do that.
"She's about the toughest filly I've ever had to train. She pulls, she's strong to gallop. She's not in her races, just in the morning when she gallops. If she hadn't been that way, and been settled in her everyday training, there's no telling how good she could have been. She didn't seem to be enjoying what she was doing. I was very close to pulling the plug on her for good. Then I came up with this idea and sent her down (to Fair Haill) to see how that would work."
Javier Castellano will ride Hungry Island who will carry 118 pounds as she breaks from the 5 post.
Dual grade III winner Miz Ida comes into the Ballston Spa off a second to Somali Lemonade in the Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth July 2 and a win in the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) two starts back.
Regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan has the mount on the 4-year-old Proud Citizen filly owned by Richard, Bertram, and Elaine Klein, and trained by Steve Margolis. Miz Ida will carry 118 pounds as she breaks from the 3 hole.
Trainer Michael Matz sends out two graded stakes winners in the Ballston Spa with Somali Lemonade and Ontario import Hard Not to Like. In her last start, Somali Lemonade prevailed over Ballston Spa rivals Miz Ida and Pianist in the Penny Memorial, her first win since the JP Morgan Chase Jessamine Stakes (gr. IIT) in October 2011 for owner Caroline Forgason. Both wins came over turf rated "yielding" and at the Ballston Spa distance.
Joel Rosario, who rode Somali Lemonade to her Penny Memorial victory, will ride the filly from post 6.
Ontario-bred Hard Not to Like goes out for Hillsbrook Farm in her first visit to the Saratoga Springs oval. Runner up in last year's Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland, the 4-year-old Hard Spun filly counts a score in the 1 1/16 mile Marshua's River Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park in January as her last win.
Unplaced in her last effort, Hard Not to Like finished second in the Gallorette Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Pimlico Race Course on the May 18 Preakness undercard. Hard Not to Like and jockey Edgar Prado drew post position 7.
Chad Brown-trained Pianist has only been out of the money three times in her 11 starts for owners Hidden Brook Farm and Dan Zucker. Her last victory, a driving win in the Gallorette over Hard Not to Like two starts back, is her only graded stakes score. Pianist will break from the post 2 with Mike Smith in the irons.
"We've been pointing toward this race for a while on the calendar," Brown said. "I thought it fit her. She likes some firm ground; she has some speed. It's a tough race, but let's give her a shot with these fillies and see if she belongs with them."
Embarr, who was bred in Virginia by owner and trainer Susan Cooney, has yet to hit the wire first in graded company, but counts three stakes victories to her credit, including consecutive editions of the Brookmeade Stakes over the Colonial Downs turf. Pablo Morales who rode the filly in her last start, a fourth-place finish over the Saratoga turf in the Aug. 3 De La Rose Stakes, has the mount on the Embarr, who will break from the 8 hole.
Stakes-placed Skyfall is entered for the main-track-only. Todd Pletcher trains the 3-year-old More than Ready filly for Glencrest Farm
$250,000 Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 10, approximate post 4:38p.m. EDT), for Fillies and Mares, 3YOs & Up, 1 1/16miles (Turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML
1. Laughing (IRE), J Lezcano, 123, A E Goldberg, 7-2
2. Pianist (KY), M E Smith, 118, C C Brown, 5-1
3. Miz Ida (KY), S Bridgmohan, 118, S Margolis, 8-1
4. Centre Court (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, G R Arnold II, 3-1
5. Hungry Island (KY), J Castellano, 118, C R McGaughey III, 5-2
6. Somali Lemonade (KY), J Rosario, 118, M R Matz, 6-1
7. Hard Not to Like (ON), E S Prado, 118, M R Matz, 20-1
8. Embarr (VA), P Morales, 118, S S Cooney, 30-1
9. Skyfall (KY) (MTO), Jockey TBA, 112, T A Pletcher, 2-1