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Mar 14, 2014

Azeri Stakes awaits new face in winner's circle


Hot Springs, AR ( - Following consecutive victories by Tiz Miz Sue, there will be a new winner crowned in Saturday's $200,000 Azeri Stakes for fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park.

Seven females have been entered in the 1 1/16-mile stakes with Breeders' Cup Distaff runner-up Close Hatches installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite.

Trained by Bill Mott for Juddmonte Farms, Close Hatches has drawn the inside post with Joel Rosario riding in the filly's 2014 debut race.

"There are a couple of nice fillies in there that are to be respected," said the Hall of Fame trainer. "Don't Tell Sophia (last year's runner-up) certainly loves that track."

Close Hatches finished 4 1/4 lengths behind Beholder in the Distaff at 7-1 odds after winning the Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing.

"She's been doing very well," said Mott. "Now we'd like to see a race under her belt and see if she will like the track there."

Along with the Cotillion, the filly won the Gazelle and Mother Goose Stakes with a second in the Acorn. Close Hatches was also seventh behind Princess of Sylmar in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks.

Close Hatches has won five of eight career starts for $1,367,300.

Don't Tell Sophia is the 5-2 second choice and will start from post 4 with Channing Hill again in the saddle. The 6-year-old mare is owned by Jerry Namy in partnership with trainer Phil Sims.

"She's an awful nice mare," said Sims after the mare won Oaklawn's Bayakoa Stakes on Feb. 16.

Don't Tell Sophia is difficult to beat at Oaklawn Park. She's won four of six starts at the track, including the last two runnings of the Bayakoa and Pippin.

Don't Tell Sophia has won nine of 19 starts for $592,882.

The always tough On Fire Baby, trained by Gary Hartage, makes her first start in six months in the Azeri. The 5-year-old gray mare is the 7-2 third pick and will be ridden by Joe Johnson from the outside post.

Owned by Anita Cauley, On Fire Baby last raced on Oct. 6 when she finished 11th and last in Keeneland's Spinster Stakes. The mare won last year's Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn over Tiz Miz Sue and Don't Tell Sophia. She also won the track's 2012 Honeybee and was third versus colts in that year's Smarty Jones Stakes.

On Fire Baby has banked $751,074 with five wins in 12 starts.

Here is the complete field for the Azeri Stakes in post-position order: Close Hatches, Joel Rosario, 7-5; Magic Union, Jose Lezcano, 20-1; Dixie Strike, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 12-1; Don't Tell Sophia, Channing Hill, 5-2; Sister Ginger, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1, Flashy American, Terry Thompson, 6-1 and On Fire Baby, Joe Johnson, 7-2.

Post time will be approximately 5:52 p.m. ET.

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