There was a point last summer when trainer Rusty Arnold was fairly certain who the best filly in his barn was only to have injury rob her of the opportunity to prove him right.
Though she still has ground to gain on some of her stablemates, G. Watts Humphrey's homebred Ice Cream Silence reinforced Arnold's initial belief with her display of versatility Friday.
In a departure from her usual stalk-and- pounce style, Ice Cream Silence went to the lead out of the gate and remained in that spot during most of the Grade III, $100,000 Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes at Keene-land, holding off a late charge from Sisterhood to earn her first graded stakes victory by a neck in the 11⁄16-mile test.
Graded stakes glory was something Arnold had Ice Cream Silence pegged for last June when she came into the Grade III Iowa Oaks as the favorite, courtesy of three consecutive victories by a combined 12 lengths.
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The daughter of Street Sense finished second, though, emerging with an ankle fracture that sidelined her for the rest of 2012. Though her return in the Grade II, seven-furlong Inside Information this March resulted in a seventh-place finish — the worst of her career — Arnold knew the right spot at the right distance would bring out Ice Cream Silence's old form.
"A year ago last summer, I thought this was our best horse," said Arnold, who won the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes last Saturday with the 4-year-old filly Centre Court. "She was even money (in Iowa) and she got hurt and didn't get to run back.
"Her Florida comeback race was a disaster. We didn't want to run there, we entered in three allowance races going farther but they didn't fill. So I sprinted her and it was awful. But we brought her here and ... I thought if we had her right, she would be tough."
Unable to find any obvious speed on paper in the field of six, Arnold gave jockey Rosie Napravnik the go ahead to dictate things as she saw fit in her first time aboard Ice Cream Silence.
Even with Sisterhood looming off her flank most of the way, Napravnik was able to settle her mount through an opening quarter in :24.43 and got a real breather when the half came in at :49.20.
"Rusty gave me the liberty to just do whatever felt right and ride the race how it came up," Napravnik said. "I knew if we could save some, we would have plenty of punch for down the lane."
Lotta Lovin found that out firsthand when she ranged up three wide to take a brief lead around the final turn. Ice Cream Silence then repelled that bid and opened up again in the lane en route to covering the distance in 1:44.66 for her fourth win in eight career starts.
Sisterhood was 3 lengths clear of Artemus Kitten back in third with 6-to-5 favorite Mystical Star fourth.
"It's nice to have her back. You hate to lose one like that," said Arnold, who mentioned the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 15 among his possible targets for Ice Cream Silence.
"She was on a three-race win streak and had got really good. Without the injury, we were looking for a good fall last year so it's good to have her back."