Belmont Stakes (gr. I) contenders weren't the only ones catching attention June 2 at Belmont Park. Champion filly Beholder and multiple grade I-winning rival Close Hatches both turned in final pre-race preparations for the $1 million Ogden Phipps (gr. I) to be run June 7 at the New York oval.
California-based Beholder, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, is seeking her second victory of the season after acing her 2014 debut in the April 20 Santa Lucia Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park. Close Hatches, trained by another Hall of Famer—Bill Mott—last raced in the April 11 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), which she took wire-to-wire at Oaklawn Park.
Beholder will make her first East Coast start in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard. After schooling in the paddock, the Henny Hughes filly clocked a maintenance half-mile in :49 3/5 under regular rider Gary Stevens, coming off a solid mile drill May 26 at Santa Anita when she got the distance in a handy 1:40 1/5.
"Just more of a schooling-type work, her first time working here at Belmont; long old turn and long stretch," Stevens said. "She handled everything extremely well, handled the surface good, and I'm excited. She was happy out there and I was happy."
Meanwhile, Close Hatches turned heads with her breeze under regular exercise rider Rodolphe Brisset, going a bullet four furlongs in :47.25. Juddmonte's daughter of First Defense was 4 1/4 lengths back of Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) last fall, but since then is undefeated with two starts in 2014; the March 15 Azeri Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn and the Apple Blossom. Earlier last season she took the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) and Cotillion (gr. I).
Beholder won the Distaff for B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm to clinch her championship honors after rolling in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I), while 2013 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Princess of Sylmar, who shipped to California from New York for that November contest after winning four straight grade I races in a row, stumbled at the start of and faded to last.
Many are looking forward to a rematch between the two on Princess of Sylmar's home turf. Princess of Sylmar also won her 4-year-old debut, the April 6 Cat Cay Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack, in comfortable fashion for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Ed Stanco. She turned in her final pre-race breeze June 1, a half-mile on the Belmont training track in :49 1/5 in company with Divine Energy.
"Richard and I were talking before we went out to the track; Mr. Hughes is a great sportsman and Richard is a great sportsman, and this event this weekend, it's great for racing, great for the fans," Stevens said. "They don't have to wait until November for Breeders' Cup; we've got it here the first weekend in June. All these horses are fresh, they're ready, and I think people are looking for the rematch of Beholder and Princess of Sylmar on her home turf, and we're looking forward to it as well."