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Photo courtesy of David Alcosser/NYRA

By Claire Novak, @BH_CNovak

Juddmonte Farms' Close Hatches led at every pole, repelled Princess of Sylmar in deep stretch, and drew away to keep her unbeaten record intact, registering her first stakes score in the $250,000 Gazelle Stakes April 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The 3-year-old daughter of First Defence made the logical progression from seven-length maiden winner Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park to strong allowance winner March 10 at the South Florida oval to graded stakes winner for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. She collected 100 points on the road to the May 3 Kentucky Oaks and jumped to fifth in the standings behind April 6 Santa Anita Oaks victress Beholder, undefeated Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) winner Unlimited Budget, 21 3/4-length Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II) winner Dreaming of Julia, and stablemate Emollient, who took the April 6 Central Bank Ashland (gr. I) by nine lengths at Keeneland.

Jockey Joel Rosario allowed Close Hatches, the 6-5 favorite, to assume a natural frontrunning position when the gates opened for the 1 1/8-mile dirt test. She struck off to a one-length lead over Let Me Entertain U, 3-2 second choice Princess of Sylmar, and Walkwithapurpose, maintaining an easy crusing style for opening fractions of :24.23 and :47.47.

Walkwithapurpose made a move up the rail as they went three-quarters in 1:10.95, and multiple stakes winner Princess of Sylmar made a steady outside progression from third to collar the leader turning for home. But Close Hatches still had something left, and steadily turned back the charge of her outside rival through a mile in 1:36.50.

Under vigorous urging, the eventual winner re-opened her advantage in the final strides, drawing clear to a 3 1/4-length victory margin in a final time of 1:50.53.

"She showed a lot of courage is what she showed," Mott said. "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 is certainly a possibility."

Close Hatches returned $4.50, $2.70, and $2.10 while Princess of Sylmar paid $2.70 and $2.10. Walkwithapurpose, 7-1, brought $2.50. Watrugonnadorosie, Let Me Entertain U, and Red Hot Tweet completed the order of finish.

Close Hatches was bred in Kentucky by Millsec LTD out of the Storm Cat mare Rising Tomato. She arrived in New York just days before the Gazelle, coming up from Florida after stretching out to two turns and going gate to wire in that allowance optional claimer under a hand ride.

Rosario was clearly impressed by his mount's Gazelle performance.

"My horse broke well out of the gate, and she found herself on the lead," he said. "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.

For updated Kentucky Oaks standings, click here.

For an Equibase chart, click here.

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