07/25/2013 2:14PM

Saratoga: Centre Court, Stephanie’s Kitten to renew their rivalry in Diana


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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – After splitting their four previous decisions, Centre Court and Stephanie’s Kitten will renew their rivalry one more time when they cross paths once again in Saturday’s $600,000 Diana at Saratoga. The turf fixture for fillies and mares is one of two Grade 1 races on the card, along with the Prioress.

Centre Court and Stephanie’s Kitten are part of a compact six-horse lineup for the 1 1/8-mile Diana that includes Laughing and a trio from the barn of trainer Chad Brown: Dream Peace, Dayatthespa, and Samitar.

Centre Court is coming off an uncharacteristic fourth-place finish behind Stephanie’s Kitten in the Grade 1 Just a Game, decided over a yielding course at Belmont Park. The softer ground was perhaps one of the reasons why Centre Court finished worse than second for the first time in 11 starts on grass.

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“She didn’t have a perfect trip and hopefully the ground bothered her a little bit,” said Rusty Arnold, who trains the homebred Centre Court for G. Watts Humphrey Jr. “She got a little bottled up, but once she got free, she really didn’t kick on, which was disappointing.”

The setback snapped a three-race winning streak for Centre Court, who became a Grade 1 winner for the first time in April, when she won Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley. She has also won three Grade 2 races, including the Lake George here last summer, a race in which Stephanie’s Kitten finished fourth as the tepid favorite.

“She’s trained well since her last start and should have great ground on Saturday,” said Arnold. “She also couldn’t have drawn any better, because all the speed is to the inside of us, so we expect her to bounce back with a big effort. It’s a nice rivalry we’ve had with Stephanie’s Kitten. We’ve won twice, she’s won twice, and hopefully we’ll go one up on her again on Saturday.”

Stephanie’s Kitten has opened her 4-year-old campaign with a pair of late-running victories for trainer Wayne Catalano and owner-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Both those wins came at a mile over softened ground, in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs and Just a Game. She is also a winner over the course, having outfinished Centre Court by a half-length to capture the Grade 2 Lake Placid last August.

“The numbers she’s run in her first two races this season seem to indicate she’s better at 4 than she was at 3, and that’s really what you want to see,” said Catalano. “And now that she’s had a couple of miles under her belt after the layoff, she should be ready to go a mile and one eighth. We had a lot of traffic when Centre Court beat us here last year, but she’s a real nice filly, and I just hope we can beat her again.”

Brown remained undecided which of his trio of Grade 1-caliber fillies and mares he would start in the Diana, a race he won two years ago with Zagora.

Dream Peace may be the most likely of the three to run. An Irish-bred mare, she finished second behind Winter Memories in the 2012 Diana and has since been Grade 1-placed on two other occasions, although she still remains winless in North America. She rallied wide to a third-place finish stretching to 1 1/4 miles for the Grade 2 New York last month at Belmont.

Dayatthespa, winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup last fall at Keene­land, is coming off a disappointing second-place effort as the 2-5 favorite in Monmouth Park’s Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap, a defeat that Brown blames on her setting too fast of an early pace.

Samitar is a Grade 1 winner both in the U.S. and Europe and comes off her best effort of the season, rallying to win a restricted stakes at Belmont Park on July 4. She futilely chased Centre Court home on two occasions earlier this year, finishing second in the Grade 2 Honey Fox at Gulfstream and third (before being placed second via a stewards’ disqualification) in the Jenny Wiley.