Not so at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 18, when Center Aisle engaged her nemesis in the stretch and drew off for a one-length victory in the $100,000 Sugar Swirl Stakes (G3).
“She did it pretty impressively,” said winning jockey Luis Saez.
The connections for Center Aisle always had high hopes for the filly after she broke her maiden convincingly on her first try at Gulfstream in March, 2020. But four straight defeats followed, including a pair of third-place finishes that same year to Frank’s Rockette in the Victory Ride (G3) at Belmont and Prioress (G2) at Saratoga. It was then that owner OXO Equine LLC decided to turn her out for a year.
She has returned in grand fashion for trainer Paulo Lobo, winning a pair of tune-up races before Saturday’s victory in the six-furlong Sugar Swirl.
“She was coming into the race ready from two very nice races,” Lobo said. “She’s a very special mare. I think she has a bright future. I felt good because the body language of Saez, she looked very comfortable outside and when they came home, my feeling was very good.”
With Frank’s Rockette involved in a front-running duel with three other members of the eight-horse field, Saez guided Center Aisle outside into a stalking position before ranging up alongside Frank’s Rockette in the upper stretch.
“The other filly was running pretty fast,” Saez said. “But I had a lot of horse, and when we came to the top of the stretch, she gave me another kick. We knew we had a horse with fight, and she did it.”
Lobo said he was never concerned when Center Aisle and Frank’s Rockette dueled for several strides.
“I felt good because the body language of Saez, she looked very comfortable,” Lobo said.
Bronx Beauty was third, five lengths behind Frank’s Rockette.
Lobo said the plan is to send Center Aisle back to Kentucky for a freshening before returning her to South Florida for the seven-furlong $200,000 Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream on Jan. 29.