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Joel Rosario celebrates aboard Close Hatches after the Apple Blossom Handicap
The feature race on the Friday of Arkansas Derby week is the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), for older fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles. A short field of 5 went to post before 21,440 fans at Oaklawn under sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70's, with Azeri Stakes (G2) winner and Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) runner-up Close Hatches sent off as the 7-10 favorite over 3-1 Let Faith Arise, winner of the Santa Margarita (G1), and 7-2 third choice On Fire Baby, winless since last year's Apple Blossom and 4th in the Azeri last out.
Down the stretch in the Apple Blossom
Also check out Danza winning the Arkansas Derby and Will Take Charge winning the Oaklawn Handicap during the Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn.
Past winners of the Apple Blossom Handicap
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 1 Close Hatches Rosario 3.40 2.40 2.10 4 On Fire Baby Johnson 3.20 2.60 3 Stanwyck Stevens 3.00 Winning Time: 1:42.75 $2 Exacta 1-4 9.60 $1 Trifecta 1-4-3 19.20
Left: Close Hatches in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Bill Mott said, "She's very special. I told Joel to go right to the lead and take away anything that was coming easy. She broke well and she's such a professional. She stands up in the gate so well and doesn't move a muscle and waits for the flag to open. Consequently, she gets into position and takes it from there. She had a rail trip and the rail seemed like it was good all day. It seems like they run to her or get within a length, and she just keeps going. It's not like she opens up a big margin, but any time she feels the heat coming from behind her, she has a little bit more."
Right: Close Hatches leads first time by.
Left: Close Hatches in the infield saddling area before the race. Mott added, "I wasn't even watching the fractions. I was just watching her and it seemed like she was going easy enough. Joel had her into the bridle and she had her ears pricked. She's just a real professional. She's a real racehorse. She's got speed and she can carry it. She's well-bred and she's well mannered. She's a great shipper. She's really a pleasure. When somebody comes to her, she seems like she's always got a little something left. When she hit the wire, she looked the same as she did at the 3/8 pole. She was going right on about her business." She will go next in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park.
Right: Close Hatches in the post parade.
Left: Second place finisher On Fire Baby in the post parade. Trainer Gary Hartlage said, "She ran hard. Joe was scrubbing on her, but you couldn't let (Close Hatches) get away. I'm good with this. She ran her race."
Right: Third place finisher Stanwyck in the infield saddling area with trainer John Shirreffs before the race. Shirreffs said, "I was really proud of her. I thought she ran an incredible race. I am very happy." Jockey Gary Stevens added, "We had a good trip. We sat back and made one run and she gave me a thrill at the head of the stretch. I thought we had a chance of winning it. It was 1 1/16 so I was probably moving her a little earlier than she would like but I really didn't have a choice."
Left: The horses break from the gate for the Apple Blossom.
Right: The jockeys head to the infield saddling area before the race. Winning jockey Joel Rosario said, "She's really classy. I was always confident. She's the kind of horse that's always honest. She tries hard every time. I was just concern with making sure she didn't go too fast, so she's have something left at the end and she did. She's a great horse."
Results Chart from DRF.
Winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, "He's gotten his act together and we think he's going to be a really good horse. I'm really pleased with him. I like the way he's developing and his style. I told Jon (Court) it's going to get hot up front, so you're in the 11-hole and will have to look over and make a decision, and he made a great decision not to press him too hard. When the running started, he was there."
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