Taken from

Article by Mary Rampellini

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Close Hatches (FIRST DEFENCE) and Let Faith Arise are among the elite members of the filly-mare ranks, and the pair will meet for the first time Friday at Oaklawn Park in one of the division’s most important early-season races, the Grade 1, $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap. A field of five will go, completed by defending champ On Fire Baby, near-millionaire Rose to Gold, and Giacomo’s half-sister, Stanwyck.

The Apple Blossom, at 1 1/16 miles, is one of the main events during the Racing Festival of the South, a weeklong run of stakes worth $3.3 million. It will share a card with the $100,000 Bachelor.

Close Hatches was an Eclipse Award finalist for champion 3-year-old filly in 2013 and is the 121-pound highweight for the Apple Blossom. Let Faith Arise will tote the next-highest impost, 117, on the heels of her win in last month’s Grade 1 Santa Margarita. The pair should start as the top choices, with Close Hatches the likely favorite as a two-time Grade 1 winner who last year was second to Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Close Hatches launched her 4-year-old season March 15 at Oaklawn, winning the Grade 2, $200,000 Azeri by 1 1/4 lengths.

“It was a good race for her. It was a good effort,” said Bill Mott, who trains Close Hatches for Juddmonte Farms. “She showed she was able to handle the racetrack. That was important. And I don’t think it hurts us that we’ve got a race under our belt.”

Close Hatches wired the field from her rail post in the Azeri, and she will again break from the fence Friday. But she could employ different tactics. On Fire Baby won this race in front-running fashion last season, while Let Faith Arise was prominent throughout in the Santa Margarita. Close Hatches has been effective from off the pace in the past.

“She doesn’t seem to be one-dimensional,” said Mott, a three-time winner of the Apple Blossom who has given the mount to Joel Rosario.

Let Faith Arise, also 4, has won stakes at distances of six furlongs up to the 1 1/8 miles of the Santa Margarita. She’s been consistent throughout her 5-for-10 career but seems to have taken her game to a new level this year at Santa Anita, where she was second in the Grade 2 La Canada in January and the Grade 2 Santa Maria in February.

“I think she’s coming up to be a very good filly,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Let Faith Arise for Tommy Town Thoroughbreds. “She just won a Grade 1, got some legitimate credentials. We’re bringing her back there because she’s doing well and it’s a chance to run in a Grade 1. We want to give our filly a chance to win a race outside the state.”

Let Faith Arise, who has made all of her starts in California, will be ridden by Corey Nakatani.

On Fire Baby ran arguably the best race of her career in winning last year’s Apple Blossom while making her first start in about 11 months.

“When they opened the gate on her last year, she was ready to go,” said Gary Hartlage, who trains On Fire Baby for her breeder, Anita Cauley. “Everything that could possibly go right went right.”

Hartlage is pleased with how On Fire Baby is coming up to this year’s Apple Blossom. The start will be her second of the year, following a good fourth in the Azeri.

“She’s gained a little bit of weight since her last race,” he said. “Physically, I really like where we’re at. I like how she’s trained going into this race. She’s done everything, plus a little bit more.”

Joe Johnson has the mount from post 4.

Rose to Gold is returning to the surface over which she won last year’s Grade 3 Fantasy and Grade 3 Honeybee, while Grade 3 winner Stanwyck goes for the same owner-trainer team that won two runnings of the Apple Blossom with Zenyatta. 

Date: 10 April 2014