ELMONT, N.Y. — They are the three best in their division on any given day. And since last spring, multiple Grade I winners Close Hatches, Princess of Sylmar and Beholder have each held the tiara of distaff supremacy at any given moment.
The balance of power can shift based on various race-day conditions. In Saturday's Grade I, $1,000,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, it was Juddmonte Farms' Close Hatches who got the jump in the latest showdown and is now the queen of the heap heading into the second half of 2014.
Close Hatches got rolling around the far turn and came away with the latest bragging rights when she held off 2013 Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar by a head to take an all-star edition of the 11⁄16-mile race.
The Odgen Phipps was one of five Grade I races on that made up a blockbuster undercard on Belmont Stakes day. It also served as the latest rematch between the three fillies who had last all met when Beholder prevailed by 41/4 lengths over Close Hatches in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last November, with Princess of Sylmar finishing sixth.
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Where two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder and Princess of Sylmar each had only one start since the Breeders' Cup, both beating overmatched fields in soft stakes spots, Close Hatches was battle-tested, having won the Grade II Azeri and Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park for trainer Bill Mott this spring.
Such conditioning proved an edge when Close Hatches advanced from third off a half mile in :45.02 and surged up outside of Antipathy, taking the lead at the head of the lane. With Beholder trying to fight on between them, Princess of Sylmar came with her late run on the far outside but couldn't edge past the 4-year-old daughter of First Defence. Close Hatches hit the wire in 1:40.55 for her fourth Grade I victory in 11 career starts.
"When she started to roll around the bend and got that monster stride going, I knew she'd be really hard to get by," said Garrett O'Rourke, manager of Juddmonte Farms. "In California last year, Beholder got first run on us and it was a track that suited her. We've won before, and the conditions played into our favor today.
"What's great about this rivalry is you throw them in different conditions on any day and it can be a different result. Today was our turn."
Princess of Sylmar was a neck in front of Antipathy in third while Beholder, sent off as the even-money favorite, was another three-quarters of a length back in fourth.
"It was just a tough beat," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Princess of Sylmar. "The pace was much faster that I anticipated and today she simply was not good enough."