Close Hatches turned back a stern test from the more experienced Princess of Sylmar at the head of the lane and went on to a sharp victory in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct on Saturday.Ridden by Joel Rosario, the daughter of First Defence burst out of the gate and set a strong, pressured pace – 47.47 seconds for the half-mile, 1:10.95 at six furlongs – before being confronted by multiple stakes winner Princess of Sylmar on the far turn.
Leaving Walkwithapurpose behind in third, Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar put on a stirring duel in the stretch before the winner pulled away in the final yards to score by 3 ¼ lengths. Close Hatches ran the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:50.53 and paid $4.50 as the 3-2 favorite. Walkwithapurpose held on for third, 3 ¾ quarter lengths behind Princess of Sylmar, who was followed in turn by Watrugonnadorosie, Let Me Entertain U and Red Hot Tweet.
“She showed a lot of courage is what she showed,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said of Close Hatches, who is owned by Juddmonte Farms. “She went eyeball-to-eyeball with a horse that has a lot of experience, who developed a pretty good record over the course of the winter here and won several stakes. I think for a third start and first time in stakes company, she ran very, very well. We’ll discuss her next start with the racing manager and the owner. The [Kentucky Oaks on May 3] is certainly a possibility.”
The victory was worth 100 points to the winner in the new Kentucky Oaks qualifying format.
Close Hatches, a 3-year-old filly, arrived in New York just days before the Gazelle, having scored a seven-length score in her debut Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. She then stretched out to two turns and won an optional claimer at the track going gate-to-wire under a hand ride.
Rosario was clearly impressed by her Gazelle performance.
“My horse broke well out of the gate, and she found herself on the lead,” he told NYRA Press. “I was fairly confident the whole way. I just had to keep her relaxed and hope she had something left when she turned for home. She’s a young filly, and it’s only the second time she’s gone long, so it looks like she has a future.”
The victory pushed Close Hatches’ lifetime bankroll to $201,300 in three starts.