The following post was first published last week at Paulick Report.
In a slightly different fashion than usual, Juddmonte Farms had a brilliant weekend, and the difference lay with their wide-margin Grade 1 victory in the demi-classic Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont by U.S.-raced Close Hatches, who represents a three-generation experiment in racing a modest portion of the Juddmonte homebreds here in the States, rather than campaigning them abroad.
The beginning of this tradition came with the recommendation that the marvelous mare Honest Lady (1996 by Seattle Slew x Toussaud) was better-suited to racing on dirt in the U.S. So, she went directly to Juddmonte’s American trainer, Bobby Frankel, without beginning her career in England or France like nearly all the farm’s racing stock.
Honest Lady was a smashing success.
She became a G1 winner in the Santa Monica, won three times at the G2 level, and ran two of her grandest races when finishing second in the G1 Metropolitan Handicap and in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Honest Lady was a game and fast racer who possessed some of the best qualities of her famous sire and dam.
Upon retirement to stud, Honest Lady has proved a good producer, with three stakes winners to date, and the best of them has been her son First Defence (Unbridled’s Song), a G1 winner and the sire of Close Hatches from his first crop.
With the successes of Honest Lady, Juddmonte chose to retain her half-brother Empire Maker (Unbridled) for racing in the States, and they pursued the same course with her son First Defence. All three of these are by stallions whose fame over the dirt courses on this side of the pond far exceeds their reputation over the turf courses of Europe.
As a result, these horses were natural selections to retain to race in America on dirt. Garrett O’Rourke, manager for Juddmonte in Kentucky, said that “as an international operation, we have the luxury of putting our horses where they can perform the best.”
In the case of Close Hatches, O’Rourke noted how like her sire she is. He said, “She was a lovely filly from the beginning and is marked exactly like her sire. When we began her pre-training here on the farm, she responded just like her sire. It all came so naturally to both of them. They have natural speed and are natural dirt horses. I think that natural speed is the hallmark of the American dirt horse.”
Among the other attributes of Close Hatches, O’Rourke said the filly “is an exceptional looker. She is 16 hands, maybe closer to 16.1 now, wide across the hips and deep through the shoulder, and I think that First Defence is breeding through the phenotype of Seattle Slew. His stock tend to be dark bays with clean limbs and strong feet and bone, and they are able to get out early with their natural speed.”
As usual with Juddmonte stallions, the farm has supported First Defence in every crop, and O’Rourke said that “once Dundonnell (the stallion’s first stakes winner) and Close Hatches went into pre-training, we began sending the superstar mares to him like Intercontinental, Flute, and True Flare, and of course Rising Tornado has a foal by First Defence and is back in foal to him.”
Rising Tornado is the dam of Close Hatches, and the G1 winner is the mare’s first foal. After foaling fillies by Candy Ride and Congrats, Juddmonte sent the mare back to First Defence long before Close Hatches ever started, and Rising Tornado has a colt foal at side who is a star, O’Rourke added.
After Dundonnell won stakes in England last year, First Defence picked up some interest from breeders, said O’Rourke, and “when Close Hatches came on the scene and became a graded winner the first week of April, that heated up interest in him, and he ended up with 120 mares” for 2013.
Although Rising Tornado wasn’t the most accomplished mare sent to First Defence in his initial season at stud, the daughter of Storm Cat had carried high expectations into training. Bred by Millsec (Juddmonte’s offshoot that bred some mares to Storm Cat in an arrangement with Overbrook Farm), Rising Tornado had trained and raced in France with André Fabre, and that she came home only a winner was a source of disappointment because she was considered a filly of considerable talent.
That Rising Tornado has produced a G1 winner as her first foal is a tribute to the qualities she possessed and to what Juddmonte felt could be realized with continued cultivation. And the mare comes from a family that has repaid the tender care of the horsemen at Juddmonte.
The second dam of Close Hatches is the stakes-placed Silver Star (by Zafonic), and the third dam is G3 winner Monroe (Sir Ivor). Monroe produced four stakes winners for Juddmonte, including the highweighted English 2-year-old colt Xaar, and Monroe is one of four stakes winners out of Broodmare of the Year Best in Show.
Acquired as a yearling by Juddmonte 35 years ago in 1978, Monroe was a full sister to the 1975 Irish highweighted juvenile colt Malinowski and a half-sister to 1982 Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride (Blushing Groom). Blush With Pride is the second dam of Belmont Stakes winners Jazil and Rags to Riches and of Irish Oaks winner Peeping Fawn. Best in Show is the second dam of the highweighted juveniles Try My Best (Northern Dancer) and his full brother El Gran Senor, who won the 2,000 Guineas and Irish Derby.