Travers Day: Arnold's filly trying to bounce back in Ballston Spa
SARATOGA SPRINGS Centre Court’s dam is Let.
Trainer Rusty Arnold is willing to give her one.
His talented 4-year-old turf star put in an inexplicably blah performance, finishing last of five in the Diana at Saratoga Race Course on July 27.
Other than that and a forgiveable fourth on a rain-soaked course in the Just A Game the race before, Centre Court has been remarkably consistent in her career since she was put on the turf for her second start.
So today’s Grade II Ballston Spa has become a second serve for Centre Court after her Diana.
She’s right in the mix in a tough field of eight fillies and mares for the only turf stakes on the Travers Day card.
“We’ve taken a step backward,” Arnold said. “Not a huge one. We haven’t fallen down, and we need to recover. This is probably a chance for her to do that [today].”
Centre Court was fifth on the dirt in her debut in 2011, then rattled off a string of 10 straight races in which she didn’t finish worse than second.
She won five graded stakes, capped by the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April.
That put her in early consideration as one of the best turf females in the country, and she’s still in that crowded category, but needs to re-establish some momentum after the Just A Game and Diana.
Laughing, trained by Alan Goldberg, won the Diana on the front end in a race in which trainer Chad Brown of Mechanicville had three of six entered, but scratched Dayatthespa, who went on to win the Yaddo last week.
Laughing is back in the Ballston Spa, and will be joined inside by Pianist for Brown, who suffers no shortage of turf fillies.
With two fast horses side-by-side on the rail coming out of the gate, the Ballston Spa could set up well for Centre Court, but she had good stalking position outside and just behind Laughing in the Diana, and not only didn’t accelerate in midstretch, but fell back.
“The race was a funny race when Dayatthespa scratched,” Arnold said. “It left pretty much nobody who looked like they wanted to be in front. Alan’s filly just went ahead and took the initiative.
“I was happy with where we were. We made a run up to her, probably had to throw a pretty solid quarter in to get to her on the turn, and couldn’t get by her. When we couldn’t get by, we actually faded, which was the surprising part. I don’t have a reason for it. It’s not an excuse, because the other filly ran well and we didn’t.”
Centre Court debuted on the dirt in her only start as a 2-year-old, but coincidentally ended up breezing with stablemate Karlovy Vary on the grass in Florida one day, and a light bulb went on.
Arnold called the work “fabulous,” and although it took Centre Court three starts on the turf to break her maiden, she had found her niche.
She won the Grade II Lake George at Saratoga last year and was second to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten in the Lake Placid.
The Mrs. Revere, Honey Fox and Grade I Jenny Wiley gave her graded-stakes wins at four different tracks last year.
“It’s always nice to win a Grade I, but the horses that she had beaten, several of them had won a Grade I, so I wasn’t that concerned,” Arnold said. “She just had to run her best race on a day that I had her in a Grade I. Stephanie’s Kitten was a Grade I winner, she’d beaten her twice going into the Jenny Wiley. Samitar was a Grade I winner, she had beaten her, Daisy Devine . . .”
So Centre Court has beaten the best, but was far from her best last time, and Arnold still doesn’t know what to make of it.
She’s 3-1 on the morning line and will break just inside of 5-2 favorite Hungry Island.
“A couple of the best aren’t in there,” Arnold said. “Marketing Mix probably took a step backwards the other day [in the Beverly D.]. Stephanie’s Kitten is on the sidelines. The filly that won the Beverly D. [Dank] was tremendous, it looked like, so I need to step back forward. We need to beat Laughing; we need to beat Hungry Island.”
Hungry Island is among the group of horses trainer Shug McGaughey sent to the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center in Maryland, after Kentucky Derby winner Orb thrived there.
She’s been knocking on the door, but is coming off a third in the Just A Game.
“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.
“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 there to see how that would work.”
Brown said the Ballston Spa has been circled on the calendar for Pianist.
With Mike Smith in town to ride Palace Malice in the Travers, he’ll be on Pianist, also, after riding her to the Gallorette win and a third behind Somali Lemonade and Miz Ida in the Dr. James Penny Memorial on a yielding course at Parx.
“I thought it fit her,” Brown said. “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.”
Owner Ken Ramsey has said that he’d still like to get Stephanie’s Kitten, who has been working at Saratoga, back on track for the Sept. 28 Flower Bowl at Belmont.