With Joel Rosario in the irons, the daughter of First Defence raced in fourth, just off the favorite, as long shot Toasting led the field of five 3-year-old fillies through the opening quarter-mile.
As Dreaming of Julia dropped back to last with a half-mile to go, Close Hatches began picking up the pace, snatched the lead approaching the quarter-pole, and straightened for home with a commanding lead.
She crossed the wire in 1:41.36 under mild encouragement, with Dreaming of Julia coming on to edge Marathon Lady by a half-length for place. Toasting and Sister Slate completed the order of finish.
“It was easy and I think it was only a one-horse race turning for home,” said Rosario of Close Hatches. “She ran very good.”
Owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Close Hatches extended her record to 4-1-0 from six starts, including a victory in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain, why all of a sudden they start to really round into form,” Mott said. “She was good before, but she really went into this one very nicely.”
Dreaming of Julia had less than an ideal trip, said Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
“Now she’s between horses and getting shy in there,” said Velazquez. “It’s hard for her to get in there, and she didn’t want to take it at all. That was it.”
The next start for Close Hatches could be the Grade 1, $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 at Saratoga Race Course.
(Jenny Kellner) Brooklyn man wins handicap challenge
Brooklyn resident Kevin Cox, 42, won the 2013 Belmont Park Handicapping Challenge, earning a $40,000 cash prize and a seat at the 2014 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in January in Las Vegas.
Cox finished with a final bankroll of $1,400, edging runner-up Joe Scanio ($1,274) and third-place finisher Jamaal Barnett ($1,262). Scanio and Barnett earned $15,600 and $10,000, respectively, for their finishes.
The top three all won seats at the DRF/NTRA tournament. Paul Buttafuoco earned the fourth seat and a $7,500 prize, courtesy of NYRA Rewards.
In addition to the $40,000 grand prize, Cox won a $1,500 bonus for leading after the first day of the tournament.
“I’ve seen so many people have a great first day and then go 0-10,” said Cox. “I prepared my wife and told people, ‘It could happen. The back of the pack will catch up and the top 20 will stay stagnant.’ So I expected to be passed and make a late push, and that was part of the plan.”
Cox is former policeman and jockey agent who now wagers on horse races and plays in handicapping tournaments full time.
With the prize money, Cox plans to go on vacation with his wife, Nicole, who also participated in the Belmont Park Handicapping Challenge.
“We’re going to Hawaii or Plymouth, Mass.,” said Cox. “One coast or the other. Or maybe both! We could get the best of both worlds.”