Centre Court gunning for rare repeat in Keeneland's Jenny Wiley

awincze@herald-leader.comApril 10, 2014 

If she never ran a step in her life, Centre Court's bloodlines ensured she could get a visit with any stallion of her connection's choosing. When she added a top-level triumph in last year's Grade I Jenny Wiley to her list of career achievements, a less sporting owner would have booked that breeding shed visit once her form started going downhill in the summer.

To the relief of trainer Rusty Arnold, the daughter of Smart Strike rebounded well from her downtime over the winter and continued to nix motherhood plans for her immediate future.

In the 25 prior runnings of the Grade I, $300,000 Jenny Wiley, only Intercontinental has won two in a row in the 11⁄16-mile grass test. G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s homebred Centre Court will try to make that elite list when she breaks from the outside post No. 10 Saturday.

Last season's Jenny Wiley featured Centre Court at her best as she finished 2 lengths ahead of then-defending race winner Daisy Devine to win her third consecutive graded stakes race and first Grade I. What followed was a three-race stretch that was the worst of her career.

After finishing off the board only once in 11 prior starts, Centre Court was fourth in the Grade I Just a Game, fifth in the Diana Handicap and last in the Grade II Ballston Spa last August.

A pulled hind leg muscle was ultimately tagged as the source of the dark bay mare's decline. Still, Arnold didn't feel relieved until Centre Court, who is out of the graded stakes winning A.P. Indy mare Let, channeled her old ways and won the Grade II Honey Fox in her season debut at Gulfstream Park on March 15.

"The heat wasn't off until she ran that race," Arnold said. "Even though we thought we had her back good and thought we had diagnosed the problem, you go in there so cautiously optimistic saying, 'OK, we have all that done, but I want to see her show up the way she used to.'

"It would have been so easy to take her home but Mr. Humphrey told me, 'I'd like to bring this filly back but only if she is a Grade I-level horse.' I think he had a stallion lined up and ready to go if she didn't come back good but she came back good and fortunately we get her for another year."

The Jenny Wiley and Grade I Madison Stakes are among the four graded stakes on the undercard of Saturday's Grade I Toyota Blue Grass, but the former is headline-worthy on its own.

Among those scheduled to face Centre Court will be fellow Grade I winners Stephanie's Kitten and Discreet Marq, both of whom are coming off layoffs.

Stephanie's Kitten beat Centre Court in the Grade I Just a Game at Belmont Park last June 8 but was sidelined with bone soreness after finishing third in the Grade I Diana Stakes in July.

The daughter of Kitten's Joy is also making her first start since being transferred from trainer Wayne Catalano to the barn of Chad Brown. Brown originally planned to bring the 5-year-old mare back in the Grade III Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs on March 8 but she kicked herself in her stall about a week before and needed stitches.

"One of her hind legs needed a couple of staples. It just wasn't the right thing to do to lead her over there," Brown said. "I wanted her 100 percent. So we've had to train her up to a race this big, which is hard to do. It is what it is so hopefully she can come through off the layoff."

Trained by Christophe Clement, Discreet Marq won the Grade I Del Mar Oaks last August, defeating a field that included fellow Jenny Wiley entrant Emotional Kitten, and ended 2013 with a runner-up effort in the Grade I Matriarch on Dec. 1.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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