While the PA Derby is always the highlight of Pennsylvania horse racing, the race card also featured one of the country’s most prestigious races for three-year-old fillies, the $1 million Cotillion Stakes. The Grade 1, mile-and-a-sixteenth contest drew a competitive field of nine, after the scratch of My Flag Stakes winner Flash Forward.
Favored in the betting was Juddmonte Farms’ Close Hatches, recent winner of the Mother Goose Stakes (G1) at Belmont. However, also entered was undefeated speedball Sweet Lulu, who was exiting a head victory in the Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga on August 24. Additional competitors included G3 winners My Happy Face and Seaneen Girl.
In the gate, Shadwell Stable’s Asiya reared up and broke through, also sending stablemate Carnival Court into a panic. While the two Kiaran McLaughlin trainees were reloaded into the starting gate, the remaining fillies stood calmly and were ready to roll at the start.
Jockey Mike Smith, aboard Close Hatches, was determined not to let Sweet Lulu run off to an easy lead, and shadowed the chestnut filly throughout the early stages of the race. Three lengths back was My Happy Face, ridden by local phenom Kendrick Carmouche.
At the top of the stretch, Close Hatches made her move, passing Sweet Lulu with ease. The three-year-old daughter of First Defence went on to a solid two-length victory in 1:37.03. Sweet Lulu held on for second by a nose over Calder Oaks winner Street Girl.
Close Hatches’ thrashing of her competition in the Cotillion leaves winning trainer Bill Mott with tough decisions heading into the Breeders’ Cup. Mott also trains two-time Eclipse Award champion Royal Delta, who could be entered in either the Distaff or against the boys in the Classic. Always stoic, he refused to lean either way so early in the championship season, and was more interested in touting his younger mare’s impressive race. “I was really pleased with Close Hatches’ run, and especially with how good she looked.”
Winning jockey Mike Smith also noted that he could feel right from the start how fresh the filly was under him. This ended up being a perfect setup for stalking Sweet Lulu. “I could have been on the lead if I wanted, to be honest with you,” Smith said after the race.
For now, Close Hatches will remain a possible entry for the Breeders’ Cup, depending how she trains up to the race. According to Juddmonte’s racing manager Garrett O’Rourke, “There won’t be pressure on us to take a filly that’s anything less than kicking down the barn because we’ve always had it in the back of our minds that there is next year too.”