March 13, 2014
Idle since her second-place finish to eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) November 1, millionaire and dual Grade 1 winner Close Hatches makes her return to the races in Saturday’s $200,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) against six other talented fillies and mares. The Juddmonte Farms’ color bearer was installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite for the race, which is carded as the eighth of 11 races.
“There are a couple of nice fillies in there that are to be respected,” said Hall of Famer and three time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Bill Mott. “Don’t Tell Sophia (the back-to-back heroine of the 2013-2014 Pippin and Bayakoa Stakes) certainly loves that track.”
Close Hatches, a 4-year-old filly daughter of First Defence and the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado, arrived safely at Oaklawn on Thursday and will go out onto the track on Friday morning to stretch her legs. She got all of her serious preparation for the Azeri at the Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida, where her progressive works indicate two bullets out of the last three. On March 10, she traveled four furlongs in :48.60 for the fastest breeze of 27 horses at the distance.
“She’s been doing very well,” said Mott. “Now we’d like to see a race under her belt and see if she will like the track there.”
Close Hatches, whose 3-year-old campaign included victories in the Gazelle (G2), Mother Goose (G1), and Cotillion (G1) Stakes, is a perfect 3-for-3 at the 1 1/16 mile distance of the Azeri. She will be partnered with Joel Rosario, currently ranked third in the North American jockey standings, who has been in the irons for all of her eight starts but one.
They will break from the rail in the field of seven fillies and mares, which also includes California shipper Magic Union, Prince of Wales Stakes victress Dixie Strike, dual stakes winner Sister Ginger, multiple stakes winner Flashy American and On Fire Baby, the defending champion in last year’s Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) on her home track in Hot Springs.
The complete field for the $200,000 Azeri Stakes, in post-position order with riders and morning line odds: Close Hatches, Joel Rosario, 7-5; Magic Union, Jose Lezcano, 20-1; Dixie Strike, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 12-1; Don’t Tell Sophia, Channing Hill, 5-2; Sister Ginger, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1, Flashy American, Terry Thompson, 6-1 and On Fire Baby, Joe Johnson, 7-2.