04/11/2013 2:25PM

Keeneland: Centre Court heads highly competitive Jenny Wiley


LEXINGTON, Ky. – When Julien Leparoux moved to Southern California last fall to begin riding there on a permanent basis, he did so with a tiny asterisk, permitting himself to return east whenever a turf filly named Centre Court was in the entries.

“She’s a special filly,” said Leparoux. “They wanted to keep me on her even when I’m on the West Coast. I will ride her anytime, for sure.”

Leparoux will be back aboard Centre Court on Saturday when the ultra-consistent filly breaks from post 1 as a major contender in the Grade 1, $300,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes on the Blue Grass Stakes undercard at Keeneland. Nine fillies and mares are entered, with Old Tune, Better Lucky, Samitar, and Daisy Devine among the other favorites in a terrific 25th running of the 1 1/16-mile turf fixture.

A 4-year-old daughter of Smart Strike, she already has won four graded stakes, having ended her 2012 campaign by taking the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs and then opening this year with a triumph in the Grade 2 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park four weeks ago.

“She has matured very well,” said Leparoux, a nine-time Keeneland riding champion trying for a sixth straight meet title this spring. “Hopefully we can get a Grade 1 with her Saturday and have a great year. The one hole is not the best sometimes, but I will ride her with confidence and hope we get a good trip.”

The opposition is headed by the defending champion, Daisy Devine (post 8, Jimmy Graham), a millionaire 5-year-old who led throughout on slow fractions to upset the 2012 renewal at 7-1. Daisy Devine spent the winter at Fair Grounds, staying fit when racing against inferior competition, all the while pointing to a Jenny Wiley repeat. Daisy Devine won twice in New Orleans before being defeated at 2-5 in her latest start Feb. 23 in a race moved to the main track.

“That was her final prep for this, and we had to have the race,” said Andrew McKeever, who trains the mare for James M. Miller. “It was the right thing to do. She’s trained on very well. I’m very happy with her.”

Old Tune (post 2, Joel Rosario), a 2012 standout in her native Brazil, will be getting tested for class after opening her North American career for Todd Pletcher with back-to-back Grade 3 wins in turf stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Better Lucky (post 3, Eddie Castro) is the enigma of the group, having pulled a 35-1 stunner against older mares in ending her 3-year-old campaign last November in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Betfair Hollywood Park. Trained by Tom Albertrani, the Godolphin Racing colorbearer has had seven workouts since late February at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida preparing for this comeback spot.

Samitar (post 6, Javier Castellano) is a fine late-running complement to her speedy Chad Brown stablemate, Dayatthespa, a winner here last fall in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup over several of these other fillies. Samitar, a Grade 1 winner in her own right, was fourth in the QEII to end her 3-year-old season, then returned to be a good second to Centre Court in the Honey Fox in her 2013 debut.

The rest of the field is Ausus, Quiet Oasis, Abaco, and Hard Not to Like.

The Jenny Wiley, named for a legendary pioneer who died in eastern Kentucky in 1831, directly precedes the Blue Grass as the ninth of 12 Saturday races. Post time is 5:05 p.m. Eastern.