Never Retreat found a yielding turf to her liking when she swept past the leaders in the stretch and cleared off for a 1 3/4-length win in the $200,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland April 16 (VIDEO) .
The Jenny Wiley is usually a contentious early-season turf event for older filly and mares and this year's 1 1/16-mile renewal was no exception. Never Retreat was overlooked at odds of 7-1 in a field of 10 despite her strong victory as the favorite in the Honey Fox Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park in her most recent start March 5.
Team Block owns Never Retreat, who is trained by Chris Block. Gerry O'Meara and Stanley Inman bred the 6-year-old daughter of Smart Strike—Lisieux, by Steady Growth, in Kentucky.
“We had this race scheduled right after the Honey Fox at Gulfstream," Block said. "She trained really well after the Honey Fox, got up here and really trained well here at Keeneland. We’ve had her at Keeneland the last 10 days.
“I knew the soft turf would be something she’d be all right on. We ran her at Kentucky Downs (in the Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf) last year in a real bog, and she handled it with no trouble. She’s at the top of her game right now. We felt this was the best chance to go after a grade 2, especially at Keeneland.”
Shaun Bridgmohan guided Never Retreat to victory in a time of 1:44.72.
Never Retreat broke with the leaders out of the gate but dropped into a stalking position as C. S. Silk overtook 35-1 shot Kiss Mine for the lead. C. S. Silk, racing off the rail, maintained the advantage through quarter-mile fractions of :24.44, :49.15 and 1:14.28 over the soft going.
After angling off the inside early, Never Retreat was third at the quarter pole while advancing to challenge three wide. She battled C. S. Silk for the lead before drawing clear to a 1 1/2-length lead mid-stretch and held sway under urging from Bridgmohan.
“I had a great trip," Bridgmohan said. “She kicked to the front and got to waiting around a little bit, so I had to stay busy on her.”
Fantasia, a British-bred mare ridden by Rosie Napravnik, rallied four wide on the final turn to challenge as well but could not keep pace with the winner and finished second by one length over Zagora, the 2-1 favorite ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Never Retreat earned $120,000 as she improved to 8-6-6 in 25 lifetime starts. The dark bay/brown mare has banked $616,481 in her career.
Sent off as the fifth choice, Never Retreat carried 119 pounds and paid $16.60, $7.80 and $4.40.
Augustin Stable's Fantasia, who may have needed the outing after being out of action since winning the River Memories Stakes at Woodbine Oct. 30, returned $10.40 and $5.80. The exacta was worth $150.
“For her first race back, we're very pleased," said trainer Jonathan Sheppard of the runner-up. "Rosie said she just couldn't quite pick up and quicken, accelerate on the softer ground, but she stayed on well. She didn't quit running and she tried hard.”
The French-bred Zagora, making her third start in the United States, was $2.60 to show for trainer Chad Brown.
“It was a bit disappointing," Brown said. "Maybe the turf was a little heavy for her. Julien said she didn’t handle it very well; she was spinning her wheels a little bit. We’ll take her back to New York and figure out where to go from here.”
Forest Uproar was a neck farther back in fourth, followed by Eclair de Lune, Miss Keller, 123-pound top weight Gypsy's Warning, Kiss Mine, C. S. Silk, and Valli With a Vow.
There were four scratches: Aviate, Ice Mist, Satans Quick Chick and Spring Party.