Close Hatches takes command early, rolls at Saratoga

Close Hatches, winner of Race 7 at the Close Hatches, winner of Race 7 at the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes, is hosed down after the race on Saturday, June 7, 2014, at Belmont Park in Elmont. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - On an overcast day when Saratoga's main track was the color of coffee gelato, Joel Rosario stood in the winner's circle without a trace of muck on his white pants.

Rosario stayed spotless by taking control of the Grade I, $500,000 Personal Ensign Stakes with an aggressive move to the lead midway on the first turn. The 4-year-old filly Close Hatches did the rest, coasting to a five-length win over 15-1 shot Fiftyshadesofhay on Friday at the cool, breezy Spa. The winner's main rival, Princess of Sylmar, tired in upper stretch and finished fifth, 13 1/4 lengths behind.

The plan was not to go gate to wire, Rosario said, it just worked out that way. And it's not as if he got away with soft fractions on a muddy track with no apparent bias. Close Hatches was moving, going a quarter-mile in 23.05 seconds, a half-mile in 46.61 and 6 furlongs in 1:11.12.

"She's a big, long-striding filly," Rosario said, "and I'm not surprised she went that fast."

Neither was trainer Bill Mott. "She's got a lot of run in the tank," Mott said. "Nothing she does surprises me."

The favorite paid $5.90 for her ninth win in 12 starts and fourth in a row after running 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.62. She earned $300,000, raising her bankroll to $2,682,300 for the international powerhouse Juddmonte Farms. Her Saratoga debut gave her at least one victory at six tracks.

Juddmonte's racing manager, Garrett O'Rourke, said: "She's the best filly in the country at the moment. She doesn't need to bring her track with her and always brings her 'A' game, but today she exceeded my expectations."

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Close Hatches' only out-of-the-money finish came in last year's Kentucky Oaks, where she was seventh behind Princess of Sylmar. "We were scratching our heads," O'Rourke said, "but that's been her only disappointing race."

Princess of Sylmar, the 2-1 second favorite, is 9-for-15 but has lost three straight and four of five, counting the 2013 Breeders' Cup Distaff. Trainer Todd Pletcher tried to improve her focus by putting blinkers on, but even before the race things weren't going her way. She was unsettled in the gate and moved five wide into the first turn under Javier Castellano. She tried hard, moving into second, two lengths behind, with 3 furlongs to go before fading.

"She's run OK on an off track before," Pletcher said. "So I don't know. Back to the drawing board."

'Chrome' returning

Trainer Art Sherman said California Chrome will run Sept. 20 in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, near Philadelphia. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero hasn't raced since dead-heating for fourth June 7 in the Belmont Stakes.

It will be the California-based colt's only prep for the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Sherman pointed to the Pennsylvania Derby's $1-million purse, $100,000 trainer's bonus and $100,000 owner's bonus as inducements to come east instead of running Sept. 27 in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita.

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