09/27/2013 5:12PM

Hot Sire: Close Hatches scores big for First Defence


Courtesy Juddmonte FarmsFirst Defence

Close Hatches’s win in the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes on  Sept. 22 at Parx Racing further burnished her credentials as one of the best 3-year-old fillies in an above-average crop. Three-time Grade 1 winner Princess of Sylmar cemented her status as an overwhelming favorite to win the Eclipse Award for her division when she defeated champion Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Beldame last weekend, but the Cotillion was Close Hatches’s second top-level score this year, having taken the Mother Goose at Belmont in June, and the dark bay or brown filly’s running style – either setting or laying just off the pace – should serve her well if trainer Bill Mott elects to point her to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

Close Hatches is campaigned by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, which stands her young sire, First Defence, at its U.S. branch in Lexington, Ky. First Defence, who stood for $7,500 this year, is one of a pair of stallions at Juddmonte’s Kentucky farm, the other being veteran Mizzen Mast. That Grade 1-winning son of Cozzene made headlines last fall when two of his daughters – turf sprinter Mizdirection and French import Flotilla – won Breeders’ Cup races. 

While flying under the radar somewhat, First Defence has made inroads in the competitive Central Kentucky market, and as of Sept. 24 ranks eighth on the North American second-crop sire list. Not surprisingly, Close Hatches is his best runner to date.

A homebred of the powerful Juddmonte operation, First Defence began his racing career in New York for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. It took some time, but the son of Unbridled’s Song became another one of Frankel’s many Juddmonte Grade 1 winners when he annexed the Forego as a 4-year-old in 2008. That win validated the potential many saw in First Defence from the outset, as he was a product of one of Juddmonte’s most successful female families.

First Defence’s dam, the Seattle Slew mare Honest Lady, won the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap and three Grade 2 stakes – all at seven furlongs – and retired with just under $900,000 in earnings after finishing second to eventual champion Kona Gold by a half-length in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Honest Lady translated that on-track performance to her broodmare career, producing five winners in addition to First Defence from seven starters. Two of those winners – Phantom Rose, by Danzig, and Honest Quality, by Elusive Quality – have captured listed stakes in Europe.

Honest Lady is part of a quintet of graded stakes winners that made her dam, Toussaud, by El Gran Senor, a blue hen mare for Juddmonte. A Grade 1 winner herself, Toussaud produced Grade 1 winners Chester House and Chiselling along with Grade 2 winner Decarchy (the first and last of these have had success at stud, as well). Best of all, Toussaud’s supremely talented son Empire Maker gave Frankel his only Triple Crown win in the 2003 Belmont and is currently a leading sire, having been expatriated to Japan for the 2011 breeding season. Toussaud was named Broodmare of the Year in 2002 by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders.

Like his dam, First Defence preferred seven furlongs, winning three of four starts at that distance, including the Forego, and finishing second to Hard Spun in the 2007 Grade 1 King’s Bishop. He also won the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Monmouth at 3. In his only career turf start, he picked up a win in the 2008 Grade 3 Jaipur Handicap at Belmont. He was first or second in 9 of 14 career starts.

Such consistency, combined with his superlative pedigree, made First Defence a natural to return to stand at stud at Juddmonte after racing. Although it is early in his stud career, First Defence has already shown a penchant for siring diverse runners. His best 2-year-old in 2012, Dundonnell, won the Group 3 Acomb Stakes in England for Juddmonte and then ran a good fourth in the Group 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. The colt has trained on with Roger Charlton to win a listed stakes and place in a Group 3 race in England this year. Dundonnell is the product of another rich Juddmonte bloodline, as his dam, the unraced Danzig mare Family, is out of Razyana, by His Majesty, who is the dam of Group 1 winner and breed-shaping sire Danehill and three other graded/group stakes winners – all four also by Danzig.

Close Hatches was bred in Kentucky by England-based Millsec Ltd. Her dam, the Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado, was a winner in France. Her second dam, stakes-placed Silver Star, by Zafonic, was a full sister to European champion and pensioned Darley sire Xaar. Close Hatches’s female family is dominated by turf runners, such as Grade 1 United Nations and Clement Hirsch winner Senure and Group 1 Dubai Duty Free winner Cityscape. Blush With Pride, winner of the 1982 Kentucky Oaks and dam of 2007 Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour, is another top-class relative.

Close Hatches has won five of seven starts and earned $1,007,300, and had already proven her ability at 1 1/8 miles by taking the Grade 2 Gazelle earlier this year. Her only poor performance came in the Kentucky Oaks, and she was no match for now-sidelined Midnight Lucky when second in the Grade 1 Acorn this spring, but since then she has strung together two impressive Grade 1 wins. Given her pedigree and Juddmonte’s reputation for excellence in turf racing – evidenced most clearly in their recent stewardship of homebred superstar and Banstead Manor stallion Frankel – it would be interesting to see how Close Hatches handles turf at some point. For now, the filly is set to build First Defence’s profile in the months ahead, and has already set a high bar for his subsequent runners to match.