Oaklawn Barn Notes March 27

March 27, 2014

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Nancy Ury-Holthus, nury@oaklawn.com, (501) 623-4411 ex. 496
Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com (501) 623-4411 ex. 497

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Azeri Stakes Winner Close Hatches Eyeing a Return for Apple Blossom

Millionaire and dual Grade 1 winner Close Hatches is on track to come back to Oaklawn Park for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) on April 11. Juddmonte Farm’s 4-year-old filly, who had been idle since a second place finish in November’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), served notice that she is on her game with an impressive win in the $200,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn two weeks ago.

“It’s a good possibility,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott from his winter base in South Florida. “That’s what our plans are right now.”

Close Hatches, dispatched as the 3-5 favorite in the field of seven fillies and mares for her comeback in the Azeri, got off a step slowly under Joel Rosario but then led at every point of call before crossing under the wire 1 ¼ lengths in front for the 1 1/16 miles on a sealed track rated wet-fast.

“She came back from the race fine, she’s doing well and we’re happy with her,” said Mott. “She looked like she could run over the track. She had a decent race over the track, so that’s our plan at this stage.”

Mott doesn’t run a lot of horses in Hot Springs, but has enjoyed success in Oaklawn’s signature Racing Festival of the South over the decades.

He has three Apple Blossom wins on his resume with Heatherton in 1984, Sefa’s Beauty in 1985 and champion Escena, who was victorious in 1998, two years after winning the 1996 Fantasy Stakes. He also has a pair of Oaklawn Handicap trophies earned by the great Cigar in 1995 and Geri in 1996.

Pletcher Making Festival Plans

Multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, currently the leader in North America in money earned, is sending three horses from his powerhouse stable for the final day of the Racing Festival of the South April 12.

“Commissioner will go in the Arkansas Derby and Revolutionary and Golden Lad will run in the Oaklawn Handicap,” he said.

Pletcher, who won back-to-back runnings of the Arkansas Derby in 2000-2001 and again last year when Overanalyze pulled the mild upset, will try for his fourth victory when Commissioner invades from Pletcher’s South Florida division for the $1 million Grade.

The Arkansas Derby is one of the two final major Kentucky Derby qualifying races and there are 170 points- 100-40-20-10 for finishing first through fourth- at stake.

Commissioner, a beautifully-bred son of A.P. Indy, is lightly raced with just five starts in his young career and has earned $189,000 from two wins, one second and one third. He currently has 10 points and stands in 30th place for one of the 20 Derby berths, so he’ll need to finish among the top three to have any chance of being at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

He comes into the Arkansas Derby after a third place finish in the Sunland Park Derby (G3), where he did not get a clean break and raced four-wide into the turn. But, he has proven he can handle the 1 1/8 miles distance of the Arkansas Derby when breaking his maiden at Saratoga Race Course last August.

Pletcher will be looking for his second Oaklawn Handicap victory after taking the 2007 edition with Lawyer Ron and has two top chances to do it.

Revolutionary, who has earned $1,047,600 from four wins, one second and three thirds in 10 tries, had a tough trip last out when seventh in the Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream when competing against Will Take Charge, who was a fast-closing second that day. The 4-year-old son of War Pass will again face the locally-based champion 3-year-old, who is trained by Pletcher’s mentor D. Wayne Lukas, in the Oaklawn Handicap. Golden Lad, a 4-year-old Robsham Stable homebred, is undefeated in two starts this year. In his last race, he successfully jumped up from the allowance ranks with his 6 ¾ lengths victory in Oaklawn’s Razorback Handicap (G3) March 15.

Pletcher’s horses will all get new riders in their races.

“Mike Smith will ride Commissioner and Revolutionary, and Gary Stevens will be on Golden Lad,” said Pletcher.