Untapable overcomes pre-race drama to win Kentucky Oaks for Napravnik, Asmussen
05/03/2014 7:09 AM
05/21/2014 2:20 PM
LOUISVILLE — The bay filly looked an emotional wreck. As she walked the paddock moments before the 140th running of the Kentucky Oaks, her neck moistened, kidney sweats formed between her hind end, and everything about her famously ornery demeanor was sending out signs that typically double as red flags.
"As you could probably tell from her demeanor, I was right, she doesn't like people," David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, said of the operation's homebred filly Untapable. "She might have left 5-6 lengths in the paddock. I was just hoping it wasn't going to be detrimental for her, that it wasn't going to be a deal-killer."
Try as she did with her anxious pre-race antics, not even Untapable could beat herself in the filly counterpart race to the Kentucky Derby. And when the daughter of Tapit was done with the 11⁄8-mile test, there was genuine thought that she may be better than the males who will take center stage in Saturday's classic.
Messy as the circumstances around her may have been, Untapable's run in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks was near perfection as she stalked-and-pounced her way to a widening 41/2-length victory over My Miss Sophia and 10 others before a crowd of 113,071 at Churchill Downs.
Deemed the even-money favorite in the Oaks after winning her two previous starts this season by a combined 171/4 lengths, Untapable had her connections concerned that she was coming unglued before the race with her agitated actions.
Once the headstrong filly got onto the track and had some space for herself and her history-making jockey, Rosie Napravnik, she further validated not only her status as the divisional leader but sparked questions over whether a wheel-back against males in the Preakness Stakes two weeks from now should be on the table.
"I was confident coming into the race, and coming into the paddock she got keyed up and I got less confident," said owner Ron Winchell, whose family's Winchell Thoroughbreds also won the 2005 Kentucky Oaks with Summerly. "I think I told David, 'I've seen this before and it doesn't end well.' But then she kind of relaxed and my confidence came back at that point.
"This is special for many reasons."
The last time Untapable behaved the way she did on Friday before a race, she ran eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park last Nov. 2.
That loss marked just one of two defeats in seven career starts and is the only time she has been off the board in a career that is looking frighteningly good in terms of long-term potential.
Untapable cantered home to a 91/2-length victory in her season debut in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra. When she returned against what was considered a top-flight field in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, Napravnik barely had to move as she scored a 73/4-length win.
"This filly has so much confidence in herself," said Napravnik, who notched her second win in the Kentucky Oaks after becoming the first female rider to claim the race in 2012 aboard Believe You Can. "Once she gets into her position, her rhythm is so smooth and relaxed. Today she did a little ear twitch and was like 'Let me know when you want me to go.'"
In addition to Untapable's personal drama, the Oaks was briefly held up when long shot Empress of Midway flipped in the starting gate and was briefly stuck. She emerged without any outward injury but was a late scratch on advice of the veterinarians.
Untapable handled that situation like a pro and after breaking from post No. 13, moved right into position in fourth just outside of Thank You Marylou as My Miss Sophia prompted Sugar Shock through opening fractions of :23.67 and :47.80.
Go-time came when Untapable advanced three-wide on the final turn and for a brief moment at the head of the lane, she and My Miss Sophia were on even terms. That lasted a handful of strides as Untapable drew clear to hit the wire in 1:48.68 over a fast track.
"For me, I was just very anxious for her to show how great we truly believe she is," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who also conditioned Summerly. "The feeling when she stuck her pretty face in front is what you want. You want everyone to feel the same way about her as you do."
When asked how Untapable compares to her male stablemate Tapiture, whom Asmussen will saddle in the Kentucky Derby, he added, "I think Tapiture would have to speed up to catch her."
If there is a cloud to Untapable's effort, it's that it comes at a time when Asmussen is under investigation from racing commissions in New York and Kentucky because of allegations of mistreatment lodged against him by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Asmussen declined to address the allegations head on after the Oaks, citing a sit-down interview on the matter with NBC's Bob Costas that aired during the race telecast.
"I would be lying if I say it wasn't a distraction," Fiske said of Asmussen's situation. "But we thought we had the goods when we came in here and she proved us right."