Photo: Coady Photography
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.
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 Hatches 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.