09/21/2013 6:04PM

Parx: Cotillion victory puts Close Hatches back in contention for champion 3-year-old filly

Barbara D. Livingston
Close Hatches, with Mike Smith aboard, delivers as the favorite in the $1 million Cotillion.

BENSALEM, Pa. - There was both delight and disappointment on the part of the connections of Close Hatches after their 3-year-old filly returned from a three-month layoff with a two-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Parx.

The delight, naturally, was with the victory, the fifth from seven starts for Close Hatches - all this year - and her second Grade 1 triumph. The disappointment was with the fact the Cotillion field did not include Princess of Sylmar, the leader of the division based on three Grade 1 victories earlier in the year. Princess of Sylmar, whose only loss this year came to Close Hatches in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct, skipped the Cotillion to run in next Saturday’s Grade 1 Beldame against older fillies and mares at Belmont Park.

“I felt very comfortable, especially going this distance [1 1/16 miles], she would give Princess of Sylmar a run for her money,” said Garrett O’Rourke, racing manager for Juddmonte Farms which owns Close Hatches. “When you see what she did today, giving seven pounds to Sweet Lulu and My Happy Face, I still feel the same way. Not taking anything away from Princess of Sylmar, but I think [Close Hatches] is a legitimate contender for the 3-year-old filly championship. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to have that face-off today.”

Though Princess of Sylmar lost to Close Hatches in the Gazelle, she defeated Close Hatches soundly in the Kentucky Oaks.

Due to an illness contracted a week after she won the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont in June, Close Hatches was forced to miss the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama - both Grade 1 stakes won by Princess of Sylmar - this summer at Saratoga. Trainer Bill Mott said he immediately pointed Close Hatches to this spot and said it was “rewarding to win it.”

Despite the absence of Princess of Sylmar, the Cotillion did have the undefeated Sweet Lulu, winner of the Grade 1 Test, and My Happy Face, a runner-up in a pair of Grade 1 races.

Under Julien Leparoux, Sweet Lulu set fractions of 23.87 seconds for the quarter and 47.24 for the half-mile while being stalked by My Happy Face and Close Hatches who was three wide.

Down the backstretch, Mike Smith couldn’t hold Close Hatches anymore and she joined the leaders with a half-mile to run.

Into the turn, Close Hatches and Sweet Lulu were a team, but it was Close Hatches going the better of the two in the stretch, edging clear late. Close Hatches, a daughter of First Defence, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.03 and returned $5.20 as the favorite.

Smith acknowledged that he probably joined the leaders earlier than he would have preferred, “but taking any more of a hold of her would be the wrong thing to do,” Smith said.

 “I put my hands down hoping she’d relax after she goes another sixteenth of a mile and she did. That’s when I took a sigh of relief,” Smith added. “I could have been on the lead if I wanted, to be honest with you.”

Sweet Lulu, winner of the Grade 1 Test last out at Saratoga, suffered her first career defeat after winning her first four races. She held second by a nose over Street Girl, who broke horribly from the gate. She was followed in the order of finish by My Happy Face, Dancing Afleet, Asiya, Seaneen Girl, Promise Me More, and Carnival Court.

The future for Close Hatches is uncertain. She could run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, though that would be her first meeting against older fillies and mares, including two-time Distaff winner Royal Delta, who also happens to be trained by Mott.

“There won’t be pressure on us to take a filly that’s anything less than kicking down the barn because we’ve always had it in the back of our minds that there is next year too,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke did admit that the Distaff would be under consideration “probably more by us than him,” referring to Mott.