HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 15, 2014—Trainers being interviewed in the winners’ circle generally smile a lot. Rusty Arnold was not only happy but had to be relieved.

Centre Court was back to defend her Honey Fox title and no one knew exactly what to expect from the filly that hadn’t run since Saratoga. The freshening not only was needed, it was mandatory.

Arnold expected her to run well but “this was a tough spot to bring her back,” he said of the winner of the Grade 2 mile and a sixteenth over a very firm turf course.

The problems began when she ran poorly in the G1 Just A Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The course was a bog and the filly never made an impact.

“I thought it was the soft turf, so I ran her back in the Diana and she raced wide. I entered her back again [G2 Ballston Spa] and didn’t run at all. She ended up last year on such a bad run.”

Something had to be wrong, so he sent her to Dr. [Larry] Bramlage and he found the problem, a pulled muscle. “I only wish that I had found the problem sooner,” he said. “Trainer error. We knew she be all right, we just had to give her time.”

And bring her back to one of her favorite grass courses; a win and a strong-finish placing before Saturday’s strong, late running finish, opening enough separation to hold off a flying Kitten’s Point, the finish line coming up just in time.

“Maybe I made her move a touch too early, but she hung on to it,” said winning rider Julien Leparoux. “I had to come a little wide on the second turn but I didn’t want to get her stopped.”

Arnold agreed. “She had to come wide, that was a big run. I know she got tired but when you don’t run in five or six months, that’s expected. She had a reason to get tired.”

It didn’t help her cause when she broke through the gate before the start. “I never had a horse run good who breaks through the gate, and she’s a good gate horse. Julien said she was standing funny and [the assistant starters] tried to move her behind. She just lunged forward, but it worked out all right.”

Last year, Centre Court used her Honey Fox victory as a springboard to the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. Is she headed that way again?

“That’s the plan. That’s where we want to go.”

“She's a nice filly,” added Leparoux, “a great kick, and the main thing is that she came back good. Hopefully we'll have a good year with her.”