It was déjà vu for Juddmonte Farms Inc.’s Close Hatches as she used the same front-running style as she had four weeks ago in the Azeri Stakes (G2) to win Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) on the penultimate race card of the 2014 Oaklawn race meet.
With regular rider Joel Rosario in the irons, Close Hatches used her rail post to her advantage and proceeded to control the pace through early fractions of :23 2/5 and :46 3/5 for the first half mile. Defending champion On Fire Baby, who had tracked from second throughout, held that position at the wire, 1 ¼ lengths behind the winner and one length in front of third-place finisher Stanwyck. The winner completed the 1 1/16-mile race for older fillies and mares in 1:42 3/5 over a fast track.
“She’s really classy,” said Rosario. “I was always confident. She’s the kind of horse that’s always honest. She tries hard every time. I was just concerned with making sure she didn’t go too fast, so she’d have something left at the end and she did. She’s a great horse.”
Close Hatches, a 4-year-old First Defense filly, is undefeated in her two starts this year and has now won seven of 10 lifetime starts. The $360,000 winner’s share increased her bankroll to $1,847,300.
“She’s very special,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who was winning his fourth Apple Blossom and first since 1998 when champion Escena won. “I told Joel to go right to the lead and take away anything that was coming easy. She broke well and she’s such a professional. She stands up in the gate so well and doesn’t move a muscle and waits for the flag to open. Consequently, she gets into position and takes it from there.”
The 3-5 favorite returned $3.40, $2.40 and $2.10.
One race earlier, Zayat Stable’s Brewing also earned his second straight Oaklawn stakes victory in the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters after having won the $100,000 Gazebo Stakes on March 22.
Breaking from post 11 under jockey Jon Court, the Maimonides colt gained the lead after a half mile in :44 2/5 and was able to maintain the lead by a half-length at wire. He completed the six furlong race in 1:10. Mister Pollard and Da Winner Is, the two longest shots on the board at 95-1 and 69-1, respectively, finished in a dead heat for second. Pimpernel, the favorite, finished ninth. Northern Merit scratched.
Brewing returned $7.60, $5.80 and $4.20 as the 5-2 second choice.
Oaklawn’s racing season concludes today with the 78th running of the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). First post is at noon. The Derby is the 11th of 12 races at 6:07 p.m.