01/06/2015 11:23AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Close Hatches

Barbara D. Livingston

Expectations were high for Close Hatches in 2014. She entered the year ranked among the leaders of the older female division following a 2013 campaign at age 3 that included Grade 1 wins and a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

The challenge for Close Hatches was to reproduce top form at age 4. For most of the year, she delivered. Close Hatches won three Grade 1 races and a Grade 2 and emerged as a division leader again, and an Eclipse Award finalist again.

Close Hatches, owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bill Mott, is a finalist for outstanding older female of 2014, one year after she was a finalist for outstanding 3-year-old filly.

Joel Rosario rode Close Hatches in all six of her starts in 2014, including her March 15 comeback. The Grade 2 Azeri Stakes was a prep race designed to kick off her campaign and give her a race over the Oaklawn Park track. But an Arkansas rainstorm produced uncertainty. Close Hatches had never raced over a wet track.

The wet-fast track was no problem for Close Hatches. She popped the gate, set the pace, and won by 1 1/4 lengths. It was a perfect comeback. Not too fast, not too slow.

Close Hatches went home to New York and a month later returned to Oaklawn for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 11. This time, Close Hatches raced over a fast track. Once again, she dictated the pace and was uncatchable. She led gate to wire.

That victory set her up for a showdown June 7 against a top field in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Her rivals included Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder and Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar.

The Phipps field was so strong that Close Hatches was relegated to the third choice in the betting, facing a different pace scenario than her front-running wins at Oaklawn. In the Ogden Phipps, Close Hatches raced in third position behind a fast pace. She rallied to the lead at the top of the lane and held off Princess of Sylmar to win by a nose. In winning her third straight graded stakes, Close Hatches emerged as the undisputed leader of the older female division.

Close Hatches caught another wet track next out in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga. The muddy track was not expected to be an issue, and it was not. Close Hatches dominated, winning by five lengths for her fourth straight. It turned out that the Personal Ensign was her final win.

Close Hatches finished fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, which was sponsored by Juddmonte. And in the final start of her career Oct. 31 in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita, Close Hatches finished 11th.

She had done enough. Close Hatches was retired following the Breeders’ Cup. She won nine races and $2,707,300 from 14 career starts. In 2014, she won four races and $1,340,000. She will become a Juddmonte broodmare.

Close Hatches was from the first crop sired by First Defence. She also was the first foal produced by the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado.

Her pedigree lives on. Close Hatches’s 2-year-old sibling Skywarn, by Congrats, won a maiden race this fall at Churchill Downs. Her dam was bred back twice to First Defence. She has a yearling colt and a weanling filly, full siblings to Close Hatches. Rising Tornado is back in foal to Tapit.