With an authoritative 4 ½-length win in Friday's Kentucky Oaks, Winchell Thoroughbreds' Untapable made a case that she could be the top 3-year-old in the nation, male or female, regardless of the result in today's Kentucky Derby. The Tapit filly remains undefeated, and virtually unchallenged, in 2014 and her final time was a mere .04 seconds off the Oaks record set by Bird Town in 2003.
Saturday morning, Steve Asmussen was exactly where one would expect the sport's all-time leading active trainer with 6,760 career wins to be – back at work. But while the routine was normal, the morning certainly wasn't. There was little time to bask in Untapable's accomplishment, especially with Winchell's colt Tapiture only 10 hours from a start in the Kentucky Derby. Asmussen, in between accepting congratulations from passers-by and bringing sets of horses to the track, reflected on Friday's personal and professional triumph.
“We were very proud of her race yesterday,” he said. “Not only did she beat a quality field, she did it very impressively. But then we immediately moved on to what we have to do with Tapiture today.”
Asmussen reported that Untapable came back from the race in fine shape and will get a few days to recover before returning to the track.
“She got out walking good and looks good,” Asmussen said. “We'll just let her rest up from her efforts yesterday.”
Not every horse who gets the rare chance to wear a garland of fresh flowers and stand for a portrait with dozens of the family, friends and caretakers who helped to get her there truly understands what it all means. Asmussen insisted, though, that this “truly special mare” understands her job.
“She's a very confident horse,” he said. “She's very forward, motor's running and stuff. She goes out there to win.”
There have not been any conversations between Asmussen and Ron Winchell about a possible next start. While a try in the Preakness, a la Rachel Alexandra, has not been ruled out, Asmussen said earlier this week he didn't think the timing of the May 17 middle jewel was right for his fit but slight filly. At Friday's postrace press conference, Asmussen expressed his wish that Tapiture be their only Preakness horse if all goes to plan.
“It would be a very wise decision for us to keep them apart,” Asmussen said.
Tapiture looms as a real threat in today's Derby, especially in light of his stablemate's Oaks win. The Asmussen barn has long demonstrated an ability to get hot at the right time and Tapiture has shown a similar eagerness in his gallops this week, tipping his hand that a peak effort is imminent.
“I drove in with my dad and I was saying that she took a tremendous amount of pressure off him (Tapiture),” Asmussen said. “We just hope for a good trip and hopefully we can get to the winner's circle again.”
Friday's winner's circle scene was an emotional one for Asmussen, punctuated with bear hugs for friends and long embraces with his parents and three young boys. The cathartic outpouring came primarily from pride in his filly, he said, but was likely extra poignant in light of a trying spring in which Asmussen was charged in the national media with mistreatment of horses in his care. After weeks of defending his operation through lawyers, prepared statements and even a sit-down interview with Bob Costas on network television, Asmussen ultimately allowed Untapable to issue what might be the most meaningful commentary of them all.
“I'm very proud of the filly,” the trainer said from atop his pony as he accompanied still more gallopers to the track for their morning exercise. “I love all of the well-wishers that are proud of her and proud of us. It's a great feeling.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Saturday morning that both of his Oaks fillies – second-place finisher My Miss Sophia and the seventh-place horse Got Lucky – “are in good shape.”
“They came out of their races well,” he said. “I was especially happy with My Miss Sophia's effort. She ran hard and she ran well. I think the Acorn is high on the list for her next start.”
The Grade I TVG Acorn, with a purse of $750,000, runs at a mile on the Belmont Stakes card at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 7.
Pletcher said that both fillies would be shipped to his New York stable.
Charles Fipke's Unbridled Forever, who finished third in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, came out of the race well, trainer Dallas Stewart said Saturday morning.
“Well, she looks go so far,” Stewart said. “We haven't gotten her out yet, but she looks good. She ate well last night and is moving good in the stall. That's a good sign.”
Stewart said he doesn't have a campaign in mind for Unbridled Forever.
“You've got the Acorn (GI) in five weeks, the Test (GI),” Stewart said.
The timing of the Acorn, a mile race June 7 on the Belmont Stakes card at Belmont Park, “should be fine,” Stewart said. “We just have to see.”
Unbridled Forever finished 10 1/2 lengths behind winner Untapable on Friday. In the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), third-place Unbridled Forever finished 9 1/2 lengths behind winner Untapable. The form held.
“Tell you what, it's a great deal for Fair Grounds,” Stewart said.
Landaluce Educe Stables' Rosalind closed for fourth in Friday's Oaks, an effort trainer Kenny McPeek was satisfied with.
“She came back with a nick on her left-hind pastern but it's no big deal,” he said. “No excuse and we were pleased with the effort.”
McPeek believes that Rosalind's future is on the grass and he is looking hard at taking her to England for either the 1 ½-mile Oaks at Epsom on June 6 or the one-mile Coronation at Ascot on June 20.
Trainer Mike Maker said Saturday that he has yet to consider his options for Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Thank You Marylou, who finished fifth in the Oaks.
“I haven't really given it a thought,” Maker said Saturday morning.”I wasn't really going to worry about it until tomorrow.”
Thank You Marylou is a stakes winner on dirt and turf, and Grade I-placed on Polytrack, so he has options.
She finished 12 1/2 lengths behind Untapable. “Just outrun,” Maker said.”There were some good fillies in front of her.”
Thank You Marylou came out of the race fine, Maker said.
Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, said that Christopher Dunn and Loooch Racing Stable's Ria Antonia came out of the Kentucky Oaks in good condition.
“Mike (Smith) got her out and into a contending position, but she just wasn't able to continue on,” Barnes said. “We ran into a very nice filly in that race.”
Trainer Doug Anderson said that On Cloud Nine LLC's Sugar Shock came out of her eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks in good order and would be shipped to Prairie Meadows in Iowa on Monday to rejoin the rest of his stable.
“She came back good and ate up everything last night,” Anderson said. “I was a little disappointed she didn't keep fighting, but that's horse racing.
We'll give her some time to recuperate and may look at the Iowa Oaks (a $200,000 Grade III on June 28).”
Trainer Wayne Catalano said that when he plans the rest of the 2014 campaign for Jim Miller's Aurelia's Belle, races not on dirt will be the focus.
“It will be grass or Poly,” Catalano said of the surface for her next start. “We won't rule out dirt forever, just maybe not so much this one.”
Catalano has a barn at Churchill Downs and at Arlington Park, where Polytrack is the surface for the main track. “We'll talk it over with Mr. Miller about what to do and what her next races are,” Catalano said.
In the Oaks, Aurelia's Belle was in fifth place after quarter-mile but couldn't keep up. She finished ninth, 24 1/4 lengths behind Untapable.
“She looked great,” Catalano said.”She had a great position. I was very happy with the situation we were in. You couldn't ask for a better spot. When he set her down, she was like floundering around, like it wasn't really the best surface for her.”
“She came out of the race well,” Catalano said. “Everything seems to be good. She ate well, and she looks OK.”
Trainer Tom Proctor said that Niall Racing's Please Explain was fine Saturday morning after her run in the Oaks.
“She just wasn't fast enough,” Proctor said.
Paul Eddery, assistant to trainer Simon Callaghan, said Arnold Zetcher and Michael Tabor's Fashion Plate would be headed back to her home base in Southern California on Sunday morning after her troubled run in Friday's Oaks.
“She just got a little nick on the leg,” Eddery said of Fashion Plate, who was restless in the gate and hopped at the start, spotting the field several lengths. “It could have been worse. (Jockey) Gary Stevens did the right thing after the bad start and took care of her and we live to fight another day.”
Carl Pollard's Kiss Moon was OK Saturday after her disappointing trip in the Oaks.
“She got a few cuts in behind from that incident at the gate when Fashion Plate reared up,” trainer David Vance said. “They she hit her head on the gate and lost her position. It was not the trip that I had hoped she would get.”
Vance, who is stabled at Churchill Downs, said the $100,000-added Regret (GIII) on June 14 at 1 1/8 miles on the turf is a possibility for Kiss Moon's next start.
“I'll work her on the grass, and if she likes it that's where she will be,” Vance said.
Daniel Kramer, Dave Kenney and RAP Racing's Empress of Midway, who flipped in the starting gate and was scratched from the Kentucky Oaks, sustained a small scratch on a hind leg but otherwise was unscathed according to Jack Sisterson, assistant to Doug O'Neill.
“She will go back to California on Monday,” Sisterson said. “We haven't made any plans for a next race. We'll see how she trains the next few days when she gets back and see.”
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