For weeks now, the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps was billed as a showdown between the top three older females in the nation, and the running of the $1 million affair on the Belmont Stakes undercard did not disappoint. With the two-time champion Beholder, not quite able to get it done on the wrong coast, it came down to Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar in a spellbinding stretch run in front of the large Belmont Park crowd. On the wire, it was Close Hatches just holding off the fast closing Princess of Sylmar to win by a short head, under Joel Rosario.
Coming in, the big three had a perfect 12-for-12 record at the 1 1/16 mile distance. Something had to give. With longshots Classic Point and Antipathy out winging on the lead through demanding early fractions, the speedy Beholder and Close Hatches were content to keep each other company several lengths off the lead, while Princess of Sylmar loped a little farther back in last. Close Hatches was the first to go and her move on the far turn proved to be decisive, but only just barely.
Trained by Bill Mott, and owned by Juddmonte Farms, Close Hatches, collected her fourth Grade 1 victory, as she raised her lifetime mark to 11-8-2-0. The four-year-old daughter of First Defence is now a perfect 3-for-3 in 2014.
“There has been a lot of anticipation, said Mott. “We've been pointing to the race since early spring, and its just one of those cases where things worked out, where you make a plan and it comes to fruition."
For the runner-up, today’s race came ever so close to becoming her fourth Grade 1 win in as many tries in the state of New York. In 2013, Princess of Sylmar rattled off wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga and the Beldame Invitational here at Belmont Park after scoring a longshot victory in the Kentucky Oaks.
Longshot Antipathy ran a huge race to finish third, just behind the top two, and ahead of Beholder. It was a disappointing result for the two-time Breeders' Cup champion, who is now 0-for-2 outsider her home state of California.
In a race that has produced a number of champions, including Ginger Punch, Ashado, Serena's Song, Beautiful Pleasure, Sky Beauty, Personal Ensign, Wistful and Ta Wee, the Phipps victory races Close Hatches to the top of one of the finest divisions in racing this year. Unlike her two main rivals, Close Hatches has been racing in graded company this year.
Close Hatches opened her year with a front running score in the Grade 2 Azeri at Oaklawn Park. She followed that with another wire job in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, at the same oval. As for her future, nothing is set other than the ultimate goal.
"From here on out, I've made absolutely no plans,” said Mott. “We planned on running in the Apple Blossom and we planned on running here, and I haven't even thought about what comes next. The Breeders' Cup is in California again, and we'll be back to Beholder's home ground, and, obviously, that's an advantage for her. It's going to be another challenge for us."