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Classy mare Close Hatches wires field

AZERI STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16-MILES

Juddmonte Farms Inc.'s Close Hatches utilized her rail post to take command early of Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Azeri at Oaklawn Park and ended up wiring the field by 1 1/4 lengths under jockey Joel Rosario.

The duo sped straight to the front but had company in the form of Magic Union and On Fire Baby to the outside. Close Hatches ran her race through splits of :23 1/5, :47 2/5 and 1:12 1/5, entering the stretch still in front despite a new threat from Don't Tell Sophia. The 3-5 favorite turned back that challenge as well as Magic Union, who tried to rally on the inside, and kept motoring to cross under the wire in 1:44 1/5 for 1 1/16 miles over the sealed, wet-fast track.

"She got away well enough, made the lead and then hung on when they tried to run her down and was good enough to win," trainer Bill Mott praised Clost Hatches. "It was a very good race for her first start of the year, and she was good enough to win after being off for a few months.

"I wasn't concerned about the track being wet fast," he added. "She's a pretty handy filly and I felt like she could handle just about anything. She has the pedigree that indicates that a wet track wouldn't bother her.

"We are very pleased with the way she came back from the long layoff and won a race of this caliber against a quality field. You always wonder no matter how much training you do if you had her ready. You never know first out, but she was good enough to get the job done. Coming back for the (Grade 1) Apple Blossom (on April 11) is a good possibility."

Close Hatches paid $3.20 as 32-1 longshot Magic Union managed to take second by a half-length over 3-1 second choice Don't Tell Sophia, runner-up in last year's Azeri. On Fire Baby, winner of last season's Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn for which the Azeri is the local prep, filled out the superfecta another half-length back in fourth, while Dixie Strike, Flashy American and Sister Ginger completed the order of finish.

"I am very happy," stated Magic Union's trainer, John Sadler. "When you're 25-1 and you run second to a horse who was second in the Breeders' Cup (Distaff), I'm happy. She ran very well. She was inside the whole way and really ran hard. This made her homecoming to Oaklawn a good one. She's got a little bit of pedigree, so this does a lot for her value."

Close Hatches now boasts four stakes victories, adding the Azeri to scores in the Cotillion and Mother Goose, both Grade 1s, as well as the Grade 2 Gazelle from her sophomore season. The four-year-old filly closed out 2013 with a nice second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and was also runner-up in the Grade 1 Acorn earlier in 2013.

In fact, the only time Close Hatches has finished worse than second in her career came when running a subpar seventh in the Kentucky Oaks last May. Saturday's Azeri victory boosted her earnings to $1,487,300 and her lifetime mark now stands at 6-3-0 from nine starts.

Bred in Kentucky by Millsec Ltd., Close Hatches is the first registered foal out of the winning Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado, who is herself a daughter of the listed-placed Zafonic mare Silver Star. Close Hatches' third dam is the Group 3-winning Sir Ivor mare Monroe, from whom is descended the likes of English, Irish and French highweight sire Xaar and multiple Grade 1-winning stallion Senure.

Most notably, Close Hatches' fourth dam is the blue-hen mare Best in Show, who was honored as the 1982 Broodmare of the Year. She is the dam of 1982 Kentucky Oaks queen Blush With Pride, who is the granddam of champion Rags to Riches, Jazil and Man of Iron. Rags to Riches captured the 2007 editions of the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Oaks, Jazil was king of the 2006 Belmont Stakes and Man if Iron proved victorious in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Marathon.

Best in Show is the ancestress of numerous champions and highweights, including top sires Aldebaran, Spinning World, Redoute's Choice and El Gran Senor.