March 16, 2014
HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, March 15, 2014) – Millionaire Close Hatches demonstrated her talent and her class by coming back from a long layoff to defeat a stellar field in gate-to-wire fashion in the $200,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, and Golden Lad posted a mild upset while scoring a dominating victory in the $200,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) on the Rebel Stakes Day undercard.
Close Hatches, second to eventual 3-year-old Filly Champion Beholder last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) on November 1, broke a step slowly out of the gate under Joel Rosario but recovered quickly to take the lead and hold off all challengers down the lane. She crossed under the wire on a sealed track rated wet-fast in 1:44.34 for the 1 1/16 miles, 1 ¼ lengths in front of Magic Union, who fought courageously for second. Don’t Tell Sophia, who came in to the race with two straight stakes wins on her home track and was the 3-1 second choice in the wagering, closed from far back and was another 2 ½ lengths behind.
Close Hatches, dispatched by the on-track crowd of 30,800 as the prohibitive 3-5 favorite in the field of seven fillies and mares aged 4 and up, returned $3.20, $3.00, $2.40
“We are very pleased with the way she came back from the long layoff and won a race of this caliber against a quality field,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “She got away well enough, made the lead and then hung on when they tried to run her down and was good enough to win. It was a very good race for her first start of the year, and she was good enough to win after being off for a few months. I wasn’t concerned about the track being wet fast. She’s a pretty handy filly and I felt like she could handle just about anything.”
Magic Union, the longest shot in the field at 32-1, was making a homecoming of sorts as she was based at Oaklawn with trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel before moving to John Sadler’s Southern California stable last June.
“Her homecoming was a good one,” said Sadler. “When you run second to a horse like Close Hatches I’m very happy. She ran very well. She was inside the whole way and really ran hard. She’s got a little bit of pedigree, so this does a lot for her value.”.
Close Hatches, a Kentucky-bred daughter of First Defence, is owned by Juddmonte Farms. With her win in the Azeri, she improved to 6-2-0 from nine starts and upped her earnings to 1,487,300.
Mott said that Close Hatche may return to Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom Handicap on April 11.
On Fire Baby, Dixie Strike, Flashy American and Sister Ginger completed the order of finish.
In the Razorback, the Todd Pletcher-trained Golden Lad easily handled his first step up all the way from the allowance ranks into graded stakes company by sitting right behind pacesetter Right to Vote, assuming command in the far turn, and then storming down the lane to win going away by 6 ¾ lengths.
Golden Lad traveled the 1 1/16 miles with Jose Lezcano aboard in 1:43.72 on a sealed track rated wet-fast while Majestic City was second, a head in front of Taptowne. Govenor Charlie, the Bob Baffert-trained 2-1 favorite in the field of seven horses 4 and older, was never a factor.
"I thought he ran super. We are very, very pleased,” said Pletcher. “I was a little concerned when the track came up wet, but he obviously handled it fine. He broke well and then got into a good stalking position. It was definitely a step up into a new level for him, but anytime you've won three straight races you certainly have talent. I felt like he deserved this opportunity and he proved he did. He ran a very powerful race.”
The win was the first stakes victory for Golden Lad, a Robsham Stables homebred by Medaglia d’Oro out of the Seeking the Gold mare Broadway Gold. He now has 5 wins and two seconds from eight starts and almost doubled his bankroll to $244,920.
Pletcher said that Golden Lad, who rewarded his backers with $12.00, $6.00, $4.20, may return for the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 12.
Right to Vote, Govenor Charlie, Called to Serve and Street Spice rounded out the field.
Live racing returns to Oaklawn on Sunday with a nine-race card and post time is 1:30 p.m.