Cup of Coffee: Bred For It

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Garrett O’Rourke met Bill Mott at the foot of the winner’s circle after the Personal Ensign. Mott has a way of silently making people talk, he just kind of stares at you until you fill space with observations.

“She’s just that good,” O’Rourke said.

Mott smiled.

Close Hatches is that good.

She bounded to the lead around the first turn, loped along on the lead while posting legitimate fractions and overwhelmed six rivals including four-time Grade 1 winner Princess Of Sylmar. Her talent matches her physique, combining to produce the best 4-year-old filly in the country.

Yes, she’s just that good.

Of course, O’Rourke has known that since the daughter of First Defence slid into the world at Juddmonte’s Lexington, Ky. farm.

“Some of them are born that way and other ones change and get better,” O’Rourke said. “She was obvious from the day she was born, she was everybody’s pick, ‘That one will be the star.’ “

Think you can’t see stardom early? Juddmonte named Frankel Frankel didn’t they? You don’t waste that honor on a doubt.

“The obvious ones you can tell. Frankel, everybody raved about him from the day he was born, Empire Maker the day he was born,” O’Rourke said. “When you do a mating, you have the idea of what the ideal would be when you match this stallion to this mare and all the physical traits you want to match when they come out. So many times you’re disappointed and then one day, bang, out they come.”

Juddmonte matched Rising Tornado, a sizeable daughter of Storm Cat to their homegrown stallion, First Defence. Bang – scope, size and class meet scope, size and class. Out comes Close Hatches. Rodin couldn’t have done better.

 “She’s as big as most colts. She’s special,” O’Rourke said from the Trustees’ Room after the Personal Ensign. “She looks like First Defence, personality wise she has a lot of Storm Cat in her, that aggressive, ‘let’s fight,’ she gets like that even when she’s exercising. I think that’s why Bill is so comfortable spacing out her races because when she starts to exercise in the morning, she puts so much into her daily routine, she gets fitter than the average horse.”

And she’s only getting better.

Last year, Close Hatches won big races, including two Grade 1 stakes, and finished second behind Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

This year, she’s undefeated in four starts, over three tracks against the best in the game. Physically, she was hard to fault last year, if you were inspecting her, you would have written, “good bone, medium size, nice walk, great eye” across her pedigree page. This year, you wouldn’t write a thing. You wouldn’t need a reminder, you’d never forget her. She’s exactly what O’Rourke and Juddmonte had hoped for when they came up with the mating, when they broke her, when they sent her to Mott, when they managed her 3-year-old season with precision and patience

 “From the size of her, yes, we thought she’d mature. This much of an improvement, no, this would have been our absolutely best-case scenario. I wasn’t expecting this,” O’Rourke said. “I will say when I saw Princess Of Sylmar and her out there in the paddock, the progression from 3 to 4, this filly has definitely advanced. Beholder might whip us in November but Beholder hasn’t grown, she looked great at Belmont, but our filly is a much bigger filly.”

Back at the farm, Juddmonte is dreaming about a full-brother yearling and a full-sister foal.

“He’s really nice, he’s big and strong but probably not quite as big as she was when she was a yearling,” O’Rourke said. “She has a full-sister foal who is a clone of her. A clone.”

Once a week, O’Rourke walks through the foal barn, going from stall to stall, evaluating the 2014 Juddmonte crop

“You’re nice.”

“You’re nice”

“You’re nice.”

Then he gets to the full-sister, stops, takes a deep breath and looks back at all the others.

“Let me reevaluate all of you guys.”

But, still, this is horse racing. Guarantees don’t exist, heartbreak does.

“If the full-sister goes out and does this as well, whew…anybody who is around horses gets that feeling,” O’Rourke said. “But, still, an awful lot of those don’t go on, some get injured, there’s still a lot of wastage along the way. The ones who go the whole way, like this one, you sure do learn to appreciate it.”

Close Hatches notched the 200th Grade/Group 1 victory for Juddmonte, arguably the greatest breeding/racing stable of our generation.

Of those 200, some were obvious from day one, “…Frankel, everybody raved about him…Empire Maker the day he was born…Close Hatches…that one will be the star.”

Frankel won 10 Group 1 stakes. Empire Maker accounted for three. Close Hatches has five. And counting.