Despite being washed out in the post parade, Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC's homebred Untapable kept her cool when Empress of Midway acted up and got stuck in the starting gate of Friday's Grade 1, $1 million Kentucky Oaks.
The Tapit miss easily took command in the lane and pulled off to give jockey Rosie Napravnik a second win in the Run for the Lilies in front of a 113,071 on-track crowd at Churchill Downs.
"She came out of the paddock a little hot but she really calmed down when she got on the track and there was a lot more space and less people," Napravnik said. "We went in the gate the first time and took the halter and shank off right before it happened (Empress of Midway), so she was without that. When we came out, we had to walk around behind and she relaxed more than she was before.
"She stood in the gate perfectly and got out perfectly. We got into a great position. She broke so sharp. She was standing perfect in the gate, she broke sharp, we got the perfect position. She gets into a great stride and she relaxed so nicely, better than you can ask any horse to do, and just showed exactly who she is down the lane."
"She has grown up and is maturing. She is magnificent. She shuts off and she relaxes. She kind of gives me the ear twitch like 'when do you want to go?' She is absolutely fabulous.
"It is just a great feeling. I am so thankful for Steve (Asmussen) and for the Winchells having me on the filly. They have done such a great job. They take their time with this filly and she is just maturing. She is moving forward all the time and she was perfect today."
"The development of the filly, I think Rosie (Napravnik) has been a key part of it," trainer Steve Asmussen praised Untapable's rider. "Riding Rosie over the last few winters on several horses, having some success with her, liking her demeanor and her way with her, especially with one as talented as Untapable, but also a touch on the moody side. I think it's a perfect match."
Rosalind was the filly everyone expected to have gate trouble, as the Kenny McPeek charge was known for balking when seeing the gate. The starters were prepared for the Broken Vow miss, though, and each filly loaded easily enough.
While standing in the gate waiting for the doors to open, Empress of Midway suddenly reared up and banged her head on the left post. She then fell backward and got stuck after all four of her hooves left the ground. The rest of the field was taken out of the gate while the starters worked to get Empress of Midway unlodged, and she was subsequently scratched.
"I got in the gate with no warning and she just flipped over," said Corey Nakatani, who avoided injury when hurriedly pulled off Empress of Midway when she acted up.
"The track vets did the right thing by taking her back to paddock and scratching her and being safe."
"She was in the gate and they were having a little trouble loading the favorite. They were smooching at her (Untapable) and it riled my filly up some. She false broke. Then she went down," Doug O'Neill explained his view of the situation with trainee Empress of Midway
"Thanks goodness she was smart enough to stay down and not move; she didn't go to thrashing. They got her out of there and we've got her now back at the barn. She's fine. I'd say she's 100 percent. We'll fight another day."
Once loaded back in Fashion Plate began acting up, forcing jockey Gary Stevens to dismount for a moment. The starter seemed quick on the trigger once Stevens got back in the saddle, and the duo broke tardily after not being quite ready.
"She was real tight in the gate," Stevens said of Fashion Plate. "When the first filly (Empress of Midway) flipped, she tried to flip. She never has had to stand in the gate that long and she's used to smaller fields. As soon as the gate opened, my race was over. It was very disappointing."
"She lost all her chance at the start and just had difficulty with the other filly and broke last. It was not her game from there," trainer Simon Callaghan agreed.
Sugar Shock was quickest from the stalls, shooting forward to lead the way through splits of :23 3/5 and :47 4/5. My Miss Sophia took up a pressing spot to Sugar Shock's outside while Untapable made her way over from the far outside post to run in third while four wide down the backstretch under Napravnik. My Miss Sophia and Untapable loomed up to the outside of Sugar Shock rounding the turn, running in tandem briefly before the pacesetter faded.
My Miss Sophia tried to go with Untapable in the lane, but the bay miss was just too talented, pulling away to score by 4 1/2 lengths while finishing nine furlongs over the fast track in 1:48.68. She just missed the 1:48.64 stakes record set by Bird Town in 2003.
"On this stage under the circumstances...the filly in the gates, the paddock, how congested it is, how many people are here, this doesn't get any bigger," Asmussen noted. "The anxiety level once they backed them out and reloaded them took it to a whole new level but once she was away smoothly it was all good from there."
Untapable, sent off the even-money favorite, paid $4 for the win. My Miss Sophia was best of the rest, six lengths clear of Unbridled Forever, and Rosalind completed the top four under the wire. Thank You Marylou came next and was followed by Ria Antonia, Got Lucky, Sugar Shock, Aurelia's Belle, Please Explain, Fashion Plate and Kiss Moon.
"I feel very fortunate to have gotten second," admitted My Mis Sophia's jockey, Javier Castellano. "I don't want to take anything away from the winner because she ran a great race. I'm very happy with my filly."
Untapable entered the Oaks off two dominating performances at Fair Grounds, which were her only others starts on the year. After romping by 9 1/2 lengths in the Rachel Alexandra on February 22, the bay miss drew off by 7 3/4 lengths in the Fair Grounds Oaks last out on March 29.
The Kentucky-bred filly began her career with back-to-back wins as well, but under the Twin Spires. She captured a maiden and the Pocahontas at Churchill Downs last year before shipping to California and throwing in a pair of subpar runs when a well-beaten eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and third in the Hollywood Starlet to close out her two-year-old campaign.
"How fast she is," Asmussen answered when asked what made Untapable so special. "After the bad race in the Breeders' Cup I think the filly got back on track, ran a little bit better in the Starlet, but once we moved her to New Orleans, I thought she grew up a lot, filled out considerably."
Now 5-0-1 from seven career starts, Untapable more than double her lifetime earnings Friday to $1,124,725.
Untapable is out of the Grade 2-winning Prized mare Fun House, making her a half-sister to Grade 1-scoring millionaire and 2010 Kentucky Derby third-placer Paddy O'Prado. Her third dam is Carols Christmas, from whom a whole slew of black-type runners are descended. Among that group are Grade 1-winning millionaires and sires Olympio and Pyro; 2012 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile victor Tapizar; and Grade 1-scoring stallion Cuvee.
Others of note in this female family include Fun House's half-brother Early Flyer, a Grade 2-winning sire, and current Grade 1 vixen On Fire Baby, who scored earlier on the Oaks program in the La Troienne.