Untapable rolled to a dominant win in the Kentucky Oaks on May 2 at Churchill Downs and could be a top contender for the Preakness Stakes if her connections opt to test the talented filly against males in two weeks. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
The 3-year-old filly division may have its own version of the Kentucky Derby, but once the sun sets on the Kentucky Oaks equality – or anything even faintly resembling it - goes flying out the window.
While sophomore colts leave Churchill Downs and continue on the road to fame and glory in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, fillies go on Grade 1 hiatus until June when they can cut back to a mile and run in the Acorn or wait until the end of that month and target the Mother Goose.
Either way, be it the Acorn, Mother Goose or even the Coaching Club American Oaks or Delaware Oaks in July, a Title IX compliance officer would definitely find inequity in matching any or all of them against the Preakness of Belmont.
That’s why, after even-money favorite Untapable continued her domination of the 3-year-old filly ranks by romping to a 4 1/2-length victory in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday, the obvious question involved whether a trip to Baltimore was on the agenda for horse who has won her last three starts by more than 22 lengths.
Broadcaster Bob Costas posed that question to Ron Winchell, Untapable’s owner, and didn’t get much of an answer.
Winchell tried to avoid the question, but Costas continued to pursue it until Winchell offered a highly non-committal reply that the Preakness “is always under consideration. We'll see what happens.”
JOCKEY ROSIE NAPRAVNIK CELEBRATES ABOARD UNTAPABLE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Untapable’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, shed more light on the hesitancy later when he offered a reminder that he and Winchell already have a Kentucky Derby runner that they hope will continue on the Triple Crown trail, namely Tapiture.
“We plan on doing well [with Tapiture in the Kentucky Derby] and I wouldn't want her to get in his way,” Asmussen said.
Considering that Tapiture was listed at 27-to-1 odds in advance-Derby wagering at the end of the day Friday, those words might be sufficient cause to place a few bucks on Winchell’s other 3-year-old come Saturday.
But if Tapiture, whose Derby stock dipped after losses in his last two races, fails to match Untapable’s heroics in the Run for the Roses, it will force Winchell and Asmussen to make a tough decision. Do they keep Untapable in her division and pick off low-hanging fruit or chase a much bigger prize in one of the final legs of the Triple Crown?
Saturday’s Derby could influence the decision in more ways than just Tapiture’s status. If the favored California Chrome romps to a decisive victory it could prompt Winchell and Asmussen to opt for discretion over valor. But if an unlikely longshot wins and raises doubts about the quality of the male division, it could produce a sense of déjà vu for Asmussen.
In 2009, when Mine that Bird won the Derby in a 50-to-1 stunner, Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson after her electrifying 20 ¼-length triumph in the Kentucky Oaks. She was then turned over Asmussen, who won the Preakness with the superstar filly.
Granted Rachel Alexandra was a freak and she only beat Mine That Bird, who never won another race after the Derby, by a length. But it was indeed a classic win.
RACHEL ALEXANDRA WINNING PREAKNESS
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Could Untapable pull off the same feat? On paper, at least, it’s feasible. Heading into this weekend, Beyer and brisnet.com speed figures had Untapable and California Chrome with similar numbers, while the Ragozin Sheets gave Untapable the edge over California Chrome.
The two-week gap between the Derby and Preakness might work against her, but the Belmont off five weeks rest could be the right option for her - just as it was for 2007 Oaks winner Rags to Riches, who beat Curlin in the “Test of the Champion” in New York.
More will be known about all this in a week or so, but in the meantime it’s an exciting possibility to ponder.
Last year gave us two marvelous 3-year-old fillies in Beholder and Princess of Sylmar who faced each other only twice, in races six months apart.
This year, though, there seems to be one filly who is in a class by herself, and if she’s looking for competition she may need to schedule a date with the boys.