Defeating four older fillies and mares, Juddmonte Farms' Close Hatches secured her third grade I with a front-running performance in the $588,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 11 at Oaklawn Park (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old First Defence filly was prepped for this spot by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott with a triumph in similar fashion in the March 15 Azeri Stakes (gr. II). She returned to the Arkansas oval after gearing up for her Apple Blossom run at Mott's winter base of Payson Park.
"We've been pointing for this race for three months, so it's always nice when a plan works out," Mott said.
Close Hatches broke a step to the side from post 1 in the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom, but quickly recovered under jockey Joel Rosario and moved clear by 1 1/2 lengths while shifting over to the two path. Traveling easily through early fractions of :23.47 and :46.79 with 2013 Apple Blossom winner On Fire Baby
and grade III winner Rose to Gold
in pursuit, the classy bay held her advantage while running three-quarters in 1:10.78.
Rosario kept his mount under measured urging as she kicked on for home after a mile in 1:36.30, using the whip judiciously to help Close Hatches hold sway by 1 1/4 lengths over On Fire Baby in a final time of 1:42.75 on a fast track.
"She's really classy," Rosario said. "I was always confident. She's the kind of horse that's always honest. She tries hard every time. I was just concerned with making sure she didn't go too fast, so she'd have something left at the end, and she did. She's a great horse."
Sent off the 7-10 favorite, Close Hatches returned $3.40, $2.40, and $2.10. On Fire Baby paid $3.20 and $2.60, and late-closing Stanwyck
brought $3 while another length back. Let Faith Arise
and Rose to Gold completed the order of finish.
Trainer Gary Hartlage said he was pleased with the effort of On Fire Baby, who came off a fourth in the Azeri to make her second start of the season under jockey Joe Johnson.
"She ran hard," Hartlage said. "Joe was scrubbing on her, but you couldn't let that other horse (Close Hatches) get away. I'm good with this. She ran her race."
The Apple Blossom triumph pushed Close Hatches' earnings to $1,847,300 from 10 starts, with seven wins and two seconds. Her other victories include the 2013 Gazelle (gr. II), Mother Goose (gr. I), and Cotillion (gr. I) stakes, with runner-up finishes in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) and Acorn Stakes (gr. I). She was bred in Kentucky by Millsec out of the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado.