04/16/2011 6:12PM

Keeneland: Never Retreat holds off Fantasia in Jenny Wiley Stakes

Coady Photography/Keeneland
Never Retreat wins the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – At age 6, at a time many stakes-winning mares are retired and enjoying second careers as broodmares, Never Retreat is seemingly just now reaching her full potential as a racehorse.

On Saturday against a top-class field in the $200,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, she scored the biggest victory of her career, picking up her first Grade 2 victory in the race by handily defeating Fantasia and favored Zagora.

Well spotted by jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, Never Retreat broke sharply but was allowed to relax off the pace in third early as C. S. Silk and Kiss Mine ran a half-mile in 49.15 seconds over a yielding course. The winner patiently remained in third under Bridgmohan through the far turn, until he turned her loose to take the lead in the stretch.

Briefly, it appeared as if the late-rallying Fantasia would close past her in the stretch, but under urging, the winner turned back that challenge and drew away late to score by 1 3/4 lengths.

“She hit the front and got to waiting around a little bit,” Bridgmohan said. “So I had to stay busy on her.”

A 6-year-old daughter of Smart Strike owned by Team Block and trained by Chris Block, she raced 1 1/16 miles in 1:49.15. She paid $16.60 against a deep group of talented fillies and mares.

Despite the strength of the race, Block said he felt like she deserved the chance to run in the Jenny Wiley after Never Retreat won the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream in March. Block felt good about her chances over the yielding course.

Block was noncommittal regarding her next start, though he implied that other prestigious turf races are in her future.

“She’s in good form now, so we need to look for something,” he said.

Other than Zagora, who got up to grab third over longshot Forest Uproar, two other favorites in the race – graded stakes winners Miss Keller and Gypsy’s Warning – were never factors. They finished sixth and seventh, respectively.

Satans Quick Chick, Ice Mist, Aviate, and Spring Party were scratched.