Batten down the Hatches

- -

The last race was simply too bad to be true. The racetrack wasn’t to her liking. She’s reached that point in the year, and maybe her career, when she’s had enough with the whole racetrack thing.

Pick your poison and then some as it relates to Close Hatches, who would have been a heavy favorite in Friday’s $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park if not for that bad performance last time out.

Close Hatches is still one of the ones to beat in the $2 million race, the 3-1 second choice behind top 3-year-old filly and 5/2 favorite Untapable. She’s also the most intriguing of the 11 entrants in the Distaff and perhaps of the more than 170 horses competing at Santa Anita this weekend.

“She’d been perfect all year up until the last one when we ran in the Spinster and she finished a dismal fourth in there,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said last week, talking about the 4-year-old daughter of First Defence and her 7 1/4-length loss at Keeneland. “It was a little bit of a head scratcher. I’m not sure what happened. I really don’t have any answers for the performance, all I know is it seems she’s come out of it in good order and she’s been training well enough since that race.”

The loss followed three straight Grade 1 wins and four straight victories to open the season. It also came in the Grade 1 stakes race sponsored by Close Hatches’ owner Juddmonte Farms and the day after another Juddmonte runner, Seek Again, endured a brutal trip when sixth in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile.

Close Hatches went back to New York after the Spinster and picked back up where she left off.

Well, almost.

Fifteen days before the Spinster, Close Hatches scorched the Belmont Park main track with a 5-furlong work in a bullet :57.92. She came back eight days later with a strong half-mile drill in a bullet :47.50.

Mott said the :57.92 move might have been “a little bit of a fast work,” even for the filly he acknowledged earlier this summer could be “tough” if he brought her to the track when it’s busy and crowded.

Close Hatches breezed twice back home before shipping to California earlier this week. She trained well, but Mott’s been around long enough to know that what happens in the mornings doesn’t always transfer to the afternoons when you’re talking about older fillies and mares.

“You always hate to see these fillies run a little bit of a stinker because you never know when they’ve had enough racing,” said Mott, who has won the Distaff five times in his Hall of Fame career. “Sometimes they appear to look good and train well and they’ve just decided they’ve had enough. I don’t know that that’s the case with her. We thought that it was just … we just didn’t know what to make of it. We don’t know if she handled the racetrack, we thought that could have had something to do with it.”

Close Hatches handled the travel to the West Coast and Santa Anita last year and finished second behind two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder in the Distaff. She’ll need to handle it again, along with a field that includes Don’t Tell Sophia and Ria Antonia – who finished first and second in the Spinster – and of course Untapable.

Untapable exits a win in the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx Racing, a victory that redeemed a disappointing race against males in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational in late July at Monmouth Park. The daughter of Tapit suffered a nightmarish trip in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies when a rival broke down and wound up eased.

Untapable’s 3-year-old season went much smoother until the Haskell, as she won four straight stakes, including a 4 1/4-length score in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and a 9 1/4-length romp in the Grade 1 Mother Goose.

Don’t Tell Sophia is the 5-1 third choice for the Distaff off her 2 1/2-length win in the Spinster for co-owner and trainer Phil Sims. The 6-year-old Congaree mare is certainly a rags-to-riches story having been purchased by Sims for $1,000 and going on to earn $979,295. She’s won 11 of 22 career starts along the way, including seven stakes.

Grade 1 winners Iotapa and Belle Gallantey are co-fourth choices at 6-1 with the other six Distaff entrants at double-digit odds. That group includes Ria Antonia, adjudged winner of last year’s Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita and winless since, and Zenyatta Stakes runner-up Tiz Midnight. L’Amour de Ma Vie, Unbridled Forever, Stanwyck and Valiant Emilia round out the field.


Breeders’ Cup Friday entries.

Read more about Close Hatches’ victory over Princess of Sylmar and Beholder in the Ogden Phipps.

Read more about Close Hatches’ victory in the Personal Ensign.

Read more about Stanwyck.

Read more about Unbridled Forever.

Read more about Ria Antonia.