Juddmonte Farms' homebred Close Hatches put in an eye-catching half-mile drill April 28 at Churchill Downs in preparation for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). The unbeaten First Defence filly was clocked in :47 2/5 with exercise rider Joanna Trout aboard.
Her opening splits for the move, which came over a drying-out Churchill Downs main surface, were :11 2/5 and :23 1/5. She galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. The four-furlong drill was the third fastest of 47 on the day.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and Juddmonte's manager Garrett O'Rourke were happy with the move that came just after the renovation break at 8:30 a.m.
"What you saw was what I sort of expected given her work last week (:47 4/5, April 21)," Mott said at his barn following the breeze. "I thought she would do the same thing this week, and we just let her go by herself. She's aggressive—she's always full of herself so she doesn't need company. I thought she would do enough on her own. I told Joanna to let her go smooth and let her have a normal gallop out.
"She does plenty in her gallops; now we just have to make sure she's feeling good going into her race and she'll be OK."
"Everything was smooth," O'Rourke said of the move. "She looks well, she's feeling well, and she's on the aggressive side, which is her game. She gets a lot out of her gallops every day and when you break her off, she's immediately into her workout. She gets a lot out of her daily routine and that's all she needs. If the trainer says that's all she needs, I think he's got enough experience..."
Close Hatches will face plenty of competition in this year's Oaks that looks deep with runners such as 2–year-old filly champion Beholder; Dreaming of Julia, winner of the grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks by 21 3/4 lengths ; unbeaten Midnight Lucky; Fantasy Stakes (gr. III) winner Roses of Gold; and Unlimited Budget, who is unbeaten in four starts.
"The depth of the field seems to be as probably as good as it's been in years across the board," Mott said. "There is quite a number of fillies that are the same type with the same style of running—a lot of speed, stalkers, that sort of thing and quality to go along with it.
"It's going to come down who is good on that particular day."
Close Hatches has been good every time she's raced. Getting a late start with Mott, she was slated to make her debut last November, but came down with a cough. She didn't make her first start until Jan. 26 when she drew off to break her maiden by seven lengths going seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park. She returned March 10 to win an allowance/optional claimer by 1 1/4 lengths going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream, then easily won her stakes debut, the nine-furlong (Oaks distance) Gazelle Stakes (gr. II) April 6 at Aqueduct. All of her starts came with the red-hot jockey Joel Rosario up.
"She's done everything we've asked of her and she's been very professional," Mott said. "(Assistant) Kenny McCarthy had her at Churchill over the summer and he said she acted like she could run from the word 'go.' The real good ones kind of let you know right off the bat, and she's just happens to be one of those."
And Juddmonte has plenty of good ones, including Flute, winner of the Kentucky Oaks in 2001.
"You gear your whole program around races like this," O’Rourke said. "We'd love to win the Derby—everybody would—and if you can’t have the best colt, you'd try to have the best filly, and this is the race that judges the best filly. We had a great day when we won with Flute and we've been here for the Derby with Empire Maker and Aptitude and Eltish. It's great to be involved. It would be a lot better to be the first one home."
Close Hatches is the first foal out of the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado. Rising Tornado's third dam, the stakes-winning Sir Ivor mare Monroe, was a five-furlong specialist and the dam of two very precocious runners—Xaar and Masterclass. Xaar was the European champion 2-year-old colt of 1997 and highweight colt in England and France, and at 3 was the English, French, and Irish highweighted colt. Masterclass was a group III winner who ran second in the CIGA Gran Criterium (Fr-I), Italy's top race for juveniles.