PERSONAL ENSIGN | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Close Hatches took command on the opening turn and never looked back in the $500,0000 Personal Ensign Stakes, romping by five lengths over a muddy track at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 22 for her third Grade 1 triumph in a row.
With Joel Rosario aboard, Juddmonte Farms' favored 4-year-old filly strengthened her hold on the older female division with the dominating victory. She was timed in 1:50.62 for 1 ⅛ miles on the sealed track as the 19-10 choice.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott conditions the winning daughter of First Defence .
Southern California shipper Fiftyshadesofhay was a distant second, with the late-running Stanwyck coming on for third. Multiple Grade 1 winner Princess of Sylmar, the 2-1 second choice, was five wide on the first turn and managed to advance into second at the three-eighths pole, but then dropped back to finish fifth.
The Personal Ensign is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win & You're In" event qualifying the winner for an expenses-paid starting berth in the Breeder's Cup Distaff this fall at Santa Anita Park. Close Hatches ran second to two-time champion Beholder in last year's Distaff.
Close Hatches is now 4-for-4 in 2014, including victories in the Azeri Stakes over a wet-fast track at Oaklawn Park, the Apple Blossom, also at Oaklawn, and the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park in her prior start June 7.
The two-month freshening coming into the Personal Ensign was not a concern for Mott, who felt Close Hatches needed a break. She has turned in some of her best efforts off layoffs.
In a field of seven older fillies and mares, Close Hatches took the lead on the outside from Antipathy before completing the opening quarter mile and took command from there while burning through fractions of :23.05 seconds, :46.61 seconds, and 1:11.12.
"We didn't know who might try to go to the lead," Mott said. "We thought Antipathy or [Majestic River] might try to go to the lead. [Rosario] gave them the opportunity going into the first turn. We were laying second going into first turn, but [Close Hatches] was full of run."
Antipathy and several others, including Princess of Sylmar, struggled to keep up rounding the final bend but were losing ground as Close Hatches hit the top of the stretch three lengths clear. From there, Rosario allowed the dark by filly to stride out impressively under a brisk hand ride, reaching the eighth pole in 1:36.94 in front by 6 ½ lengths. There were no threats on the horizon as Close Hatches galloped under the wire geared down.
"Turning for home, I expected Princess of Sylmar to show up, but she didn't," Rosario said. "[Close Hatches] looked good out there; she was doing it nice and easy and it was a good race for her. She's a nice filly with a long stride. I'm not surprised she went that fast."
Close Hatches, bred in Kentucky by the Juddmonte division Millsec, is the first starter out of the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado. She had already earned an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Distaff by virtue of her Ogden Phipps win.
The victory was her ninth from 12 career starts that include two seconds and just one off-the-board-performance, that coming in the 2013 Longines Kentucky Oaks when she finished seventh behind Princess of Sylmar. That is the only time in five head-to-head meetings that Princess of Sylmar has finished in front of her Juddmonte rival.
In a very strung-out finish, Fiftyshadesofhay and John Velazquez took second by 3 ¾ lengths over Stanwyck, who was 3 ¼ lengths clear of Antipathy. Princess of Sylmar was next, followed by Belle Gallantey, and Majestic River.
"[Princess of Sylmar] got hung out a little wide on the first turn but ended up in a good position on the backside," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "[Jockey Javier Castellano] ended up in a good spot down the backside and said she felt great, moving really well until about the three-eighths pole and then she just kind of turned him loose."
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, Close Hatches boosted her career bankroll to $2,682,300 and returned $5.90, $3.30, and $2.70. Ruffian Handicap winner Fiftyshadesofhay, sent off at 15-1 odds, paid $11 and $5.60 while completing a $75 exacta. Stanwyck, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, was $4 to show.
Close Hatches recorded her fifth Grade 1 victory and her second win from four tries at 1 ⅛ miles. The other victory came in last year's Gazelle.
Mott said the plan is to take Close Hatches to the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes Oct. 5 at Keeneland.