Close Hatches tops Apple Blossom

Close Hatches will try to add a third top-level victory to her resume in the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, in which she meets four opponents, including last year's winner On Fire Baby, April 11 at Oaklawn Park.

Juddmonte Farms' 4-year-old daughter of First Defence scored a comfortable win at the Arkansas oval in her most recent start. Leading all the way, she captured the March 15 Azeri Stakes, run at the Apple Blossom's 1 1/16-mile distance, by 1 ¼ lengths. It was her first start in 4 ½ months since finishing second to champion Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park.

Close Hatches was among the best of her division last year, notching victories Mother Goose and Cotillion Stakes and taking the Gazelle Stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. She will break from post one in the Apple Blossom under high weight of 121 pounds, including jockey Joel Rosario, while conceding from four to nine pounds to a quartet of challengers.

"She passed the first test and she's doing well, so we decided to send her back," Mott said. "I have no complaints about the weights. I hope she travels well and settles in well, and if she does that, I'm sure she'll run her race."

Anita Cauley's On Fire Baby was fourth in the Azeri after being off for more than five months. She won last year's Apple Blossom in her return from nearly a year on the sidelines, taking the race going wire to wire from Tiz Miz Sue. The 5-year-old Smoke Glacken mare owns a previous win at the distance at Oaklawn, capturing the 2012 Honeybee Stakes for trainer Gary "Red Dog" Hartlage, who enjoyed a breakthrough Grade 1 win with her Apple Blossom victory. Assigned 115 pounds, she will start from post 4 with Joe Johnson at the reins.

Tommy Town Thoroughbreds' Let Faith Arise is seeking a second consecutive grade I win. After posting respective seconds in the La Canada and Santa Maria Stakes in January and February, the 5-year-old Empire Maker filly broke through at the elite level in the Santa Margarita Stakes at Santa Anita, the same day as the Azeri. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, she is assigned 117 pounds and will break from the outside post 5 with Corey Nakatani.

The field is rounded out by Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti' Rose to Gold, a 4-year-old Friends Lake filly who won last year's Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn, and Jerry and Ann Moss' Stanwyck, a 5-year-old Empire Maker mare who enters off a third to Let Faith Arise in the Santa Margarita.