Once again the showdown between leading 4-year-old fillies Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar went the only way it possibly could have gone with Close Hatches continuing her undefeated year in Friday's $500,000 Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.
Close Hatches, owned by Juddmonte Farms, registered a front-running five- length victory in the 1 1/8-mile stakes as Princess of Sylmar could do no better than fifth in the seven-horse field of fillies and mares.
"I did not expect it to be wire-to-wire," noted winning jockey Joel Rosario.
The win of the Personal Ensign reserved a place for Close Hatches in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 31 at Santa Anita, a race in which she finished a distant second last year to Eclipse Award winner Beholder.
Close Hatches, trained by Bill Mott, basically secured herself a commanding lead for the Eclipse Award as this year's champion older female and reinforced her claim as a Horse of the Year contender.
"She's already a Grade 1 winner, and she just carried on that tradition today," said winning trainer Bill Mott.
Close Hatches went off as a slight 19-10 favorite over Princess of Sylmar and covered the 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track in 1:50.62.
Fiftyshadesofhay finished second followed by Stanwyck, Antipathy, Princess of Sylmar, Belle Gallantey and Majestic River.
Most disturbing was the inability of Princess of Sylmar to seriously challenge Close Hatches after getting to within a head on the final turn. Close Hatches led by better than six lengths at the top of the stretch and eased off approaching the wire.
Princess Sylmar, ridden by Javier Castellano, had nothing down the stretch and finished 12 lengths behind the winner on a track where she had posted two wins in as many starts.
"It seemed like she was in a decent position and handling (the mud) pretty well," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "She's run OK on an off track before."
Close Hatches defeated Princess of Sylmar by a head in the Ogden Phipps Stakes on the Belmont Stakes program on June 7. The filly also has wins this season in the Azeri and Apple Blossom Handicap, both at Oaklawn Park.
"(My horse) looked good out there; she was doing it nice and easy and it was a good race for her. She's a nice filly with a long stride. I'm not surprised she went that fast," Rosario about Friday's victory.
Close Hatches has career earnings of $2,682,300 with nine wins in 12 starts.
Close Hatches returned $5.90, $3.30 and $2.70. Fiftyshadesofhay paid $11.00 and $5.60, and Stanwyck paid $4.00 to show.