'Julia' dreaming of winner's circle

June, 23, 2013

There was a time when Dreaming of Julia was the hottest commodity among 3-year-olds -- of either sex.

It happened, quite specifically, on March 30 when the 3-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy turned in one of the most scintillating performances in the last few years. Not only did she win the Gulfstream Park Oaks by 21 ¾ lengths on that afternoon, she did it in a time that was electrifying … brilliant … amazing. There was no shortage of superlatives that could be attached to it.

The Stonestreet Stables filly needed just 1:48.97 to complete the mile-and-an-eighth journey, a time that became a mind-boggling speed figure four races later when it was the boys' turn to run and future Kentucky Derby winner Orb won the Florida Derby while covering the same nine-furlong distance in a significantly slower 1:50.87.

That time, though, seemed an extremely long time ago on Saturday at Belmont Park when Dreaming of Julia began to flounder on the final turn of the $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes and the door to the 3-year-old filly championship was emphatically thrown open.

After finishing a troubled fourth in the Kentucky Oaks as the 3-2 favorite -- her first race after the tour de force in Florida -- Dreaming of Julia staged a late rally to finish a distant second as a much heavier 1-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Mother Goose.

"She was never herself," trainer Todd Pletcher said.

This time, the moment belonged to Close Hatches, who had an even more disappointing day in the Kentucky Oaks. Undefeated after three starts going into the distaff version of the Kentucky Derby, she wound up seventh in the Oaks as she finished 10 ¾ lengths behind 38-1 longshot Princess of Sylmar -- a filly she beat by 3 ¼ lengths in her previous start.

What went wrong in the Oaks?

It's hard to explain why all of sudden they really round into form. She was good before, but she really went into this one very nicely.

-- Bill Mott, trainer Close Hatches
"[Bleep] happens, I guess," said her trainer Bill Mott, who didn't actually say "bleep" but would have been "bleeped" out if he uttered the actual word he used on television. "She just had a dull day. We went into Oaks off three lifetime races and that's a lot to expect."

The timing was much better Saturday. After putting the Oaks behind her while finishing second to the fleet, Bob Baffert-trained Midnight Lucky in the mile Acorn, Close Hatches came into the mile-and-a-sixteenth Mother Goose primed for a top effort.

"She exploded nicely." Mott said. "It's hard to explain why all of sudden they really round into form. She was good before, but she really went into this one very nicely."

In a compact field of five, Close Hatches and Dreaming of Julia were alongside each other in third and fourth after a half-mile when jockey Joel Rosario sent the Juddmonte Farms filly after the front-running 26-1 shot Toasting. Meanwhile, Dreaming of Julia's gears remained in neutral.

As Close Hatches forged to a clear lead from the outside before the quarter pole, Dreaming of Julia dropped back to last and gave palpitations to the "bridge jumpers" who wagered $689,154 to show on her.

In the stretch, Close Hatches ran away and hid, romping to a 7 ¼ length score as the 4-1 second choice notched her first Grade 1 win and re-entered the chase for an Eclipse Award.

Not that Mott wanted to talk "bleep" about his filly's new status in the division and her chances of avenging her two losses down the road.

"It's way too early to start talking about [championships] right now," said the Hall of Fame trainer who might get a rubber match with Princess of Sylmar in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 at Saratoga. "There are some good fillies out there. I think it will probably come down to who beats the older girls later in the year. A lot is decided in October or November."

For Dreaming of Julia, who edged Marathon Lady by a half-length for second, the time seems right to re-group.

"She was never comfortable," jockey John Velazquez said. "She wasn't comfortable between horses and I think she got shy from the time before when she got squeezed in the Oaks."

The Mother Goose left Dreaming of Julia with just one win from four starts so far in her 3-year-old season, not to mention a lingering image as a filly struggling to reclaim the greatness she flashed on a grand March afternoon.

As summer brings another racing season into a sharper focus, time, which made her a budding superstar in the spring, no longer seems to be on her side.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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