10/10/2012 3:26PM

Keeneland: Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup marks rubber match between Centre Court, Stephanie's Kitten

Tom Keyser
Centre Court, winning the Lake George Stakes, has split two decisions with Stephanie's Kitten so far this season.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – After Centre Court won the Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs in June, trainer Rusty Arnold said he was instructed by the filly’s owner-breeder, G. Watts Humphrey Jr., to plot a course that would have her running four months later in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.

“I think I’ve gotten her here in exceptionally good shape,” said Arnold, quickly adding: “Problem is, I think a few others came up with the same plan.”

Indeed, the QEII once again drew most of the elite 3-year-old turf fillies in North America, with the reigning divisional leader, Stephanie’s Kitten, likely to come a slight favorite over the uncoupled Chad Brown duo of Samitar and Dayatthespa in a field of eight. The 1 1/8-mile turf race will be run for the 29th time Saturday.

Arnold has a healthy respect for the quality of the cast, although with Centre Court – who traded decisions with Stephanie’s Kitten this summer at Saratoga by winning the July 25 Lake George and finishing second to her in the Aug. 19 Lake Placid – he wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

“It came up an extremely competitive race, but our filly hasn’t missed a beat since her races at Saratoga,” Arnold said. “I honestly couldn’t be any happier with her.”

Winning the QEII would carry extra meaning to Humphrey and his family, said Arnold, for a number of reasons, including the fact they live in the Bluegrass region and the dam of Centre Court, Let, has been among their favorite horses since she earned more than $600,000 and went on to become a successful producer.

From the rail and with jockeys, this is the way the QEII will line up: Better Lucky, Shaun Bridgmohan; Tannery, Elvis Trujillo; Treasured Up, Brian Hernandez Jr.; Centre Court, Julien Leparoux; Stephanie’s Kitten, John Velazquez; Somali Lemonade, Joe Rocco Jr.; Samitar, Ramon Dominguez; and Dayatthespa, Javier Castellano.

All fillies will carry 121 pounds in the QEII, which goes as the ninth of 10 races on a terrific Saturday card that also includes five allowance races.