The complexion of the $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) certainly has changed in the six weeks leading up to the Oct. 31 race at Santa Anita Park, but if Close Hatches can return to her top form, the outcome of the race could end with the familiar sight of trainer Bill Mott entering the winner's circle.
Mott, who has more Distaff wins than any other trainer, is looking for his sixth this year with Juddmonte Farms' Close Hatches. But to do so, he'll need the 4-year-old First Defence filly to bounce back from her only poor effort of the season. Close Hatches drew post 11 in a field of as many runners for the 1 1/8-mile Distaff and will have regular rider Joel Rosario in the irons.
The Racing Hall of Fame trainer doesn't have an explanation for Close Hatches' fourth-place finish in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 5 at Keeneland, but he likes what he's seen since her four-race win streak—a stretch that included three grade I wins—ended.
"I don't know if she didn't like the track. We thought that could have had something to do with it. I certainly thought she went into the Spinster in great shape, aside from having a fast work the week before, but everything else went well up to the race," Mott said. "It was a little bit of a head scratcher. I'm hoping she can come back to California and show her best."
Since that effort Mott said Close Hatches, who finished second to Beholder in last year's Distaff at Santa Anita, has been training well. She worked four furlongs in :48.92 Oct. 19 on a fast track at Belmont Park.
"She'd been perfect all year up until the last one in the Spinster. She ran fourth in there and I'm not sure what happened. I really don't have any answers for the performance," Mott said. "All I know is that she came out of it well and she's been training well since that race. We hope she'll rebound back at Santa Anita."
Her previous five career grade I victories will make Close Hatches one of the favorites in the race for fillies and mares although top 3-year-old Untapable is the 5-2 morning-line choice. Close Hatches will be starting in a field that has seen a couple of big defections in recent weeks.
In September, King of Prussia Stable retired four-time grade I winner Princess of Sylmar, a 4-year-old daughter of Majestic Warrior. Then two-time champion Beholder, who figured to be favored to defend her Distaff title of a year ago and earn a third straight Breeders' Cup win, spiked a fever earlier in October and was removed from consideration for the race.
While those two fillies will not make the Distaff, plenty of classy females remain, including Untapable who will face older rivals for the first time. Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred daughter of Tapit boasts three grade I victories this year against other 3-year-old fillies. She was assigned post 10 and morning-line favoritism at 5-2 and has Rosie Napravnik in the irons
Untapable enters off a clear victory in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 20 at Parx Racing. The only loss this season by the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner came in a fifth-place finish against males in the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) at Monmouth Park.
Trainer Steve Asmussen shipped Untapable to Santa Anita early for a series of works beginning Oct. 5, including a handy five-furlong move Oct. 19 in a bullet :58 3/5, fastest of 66 works at the distance. Asmussen said Untapable has been getting over the Santa Anita surface very well.
"It has worked fairly well for us the last few years," Asmussen said about shipping horses early to Santa Anita. "It gives her a chance to settle in. I feel she has been doing extremely well here. She had a good work on the track. I'm happy with the way things are going."
While the connections of Close Hatches are looking for answers after the Spinster, the 1 1/8-mile race at Keeneland marked the first grade I victory for trainer Phil Sims and Jerry Namy's Don't Tell Sophia, a 6-year-old Congaree mare who was landed by Sims for $1,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Don't Tell Sophia drew post 7 and will be ridden by Joe Rocco Jr.
"I think it's fine; we'll be very happy with the seven," Sims remarked. "We weren't overly concerned about it, but it's nice that we get in the middle somewhere."
Spinster runner-up Ria Antonia also has been entered in the Distaff. Christopher Dunn and Loooch Racing Stable's Ria Antonia will try for a second straight Breeders' Cup win after the Rockport Harbor filly won last year's Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). She drew post 9 with Paco Lopez getting the mount.
Iotapa, a 4-year-old Afleet Alex filly, boasts three graded stakes wins this season including a front-running score in the Vanity Stakes (gr. I) where she drew off to a 10 1/4-length win at Santa Anita at the Distaff distance.
Belle Gallantey has scored grade I front-running wins in two of her past three starts. The 5-year-old After Market mare enters off an 8 1/4-length romp in the Beldame Invitational Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Another early runner is Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman's Tiz Midnight, who led in the Sept. 27 Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita before finishing second to Beholder.
|2014 Breeders' Cup Longines Distaff (gr. I) Oct. 31 4:35 PM PDT|
|1.||L'Amour de Ma Vie||Maxime Guyon||Pia Brandt||15-1|
|2.||Tiz Midnight||Victor Espinoza||Bob Baffert||10-1|
|3.||Iotapa||Joe Talamo||John W. Sadler||6-1|
|4.||Belle Gallantey||Jose Ortiz||Rudy Rodriguez||6-1|
|5.||Unbridled Forever||John R. Velazquez||Dallas Stewart||20-1|
|6.||Stanwyck||Corey Nakatani||John A. Shirreffs||20-1|
|7.||Don't Tell Sophia||Joseph Rocco, Jr.||Philip A. Sims||5-1|
|8.||Valiant Emilia||Rafael Bejarano||Gary Mandella||20-1|
|9.||Ria Antonia||Paco Lopez||Thomas M. Amoss||15-1|
|10.||Untapable||Rosie Napravnik||Steven M. Asmussen||5-2|
|11.||Close Hatches||Joel Rosario||William I. Mott||3-1|