HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Untapable's 41/2-month hiatus heading into Saturday's Grade II, $300,000 Azeri Stakes was the longest the champion filly had ever taken between starts. And if ever there is a time to get the edge on a superior opponent, it's when they are still trying to sharpen edges time may have dulled.
The Donnie Von Hemel-trained Gold Medal Dancer grabbed that opportunity, leading every step of the 11⁄16-mile Azeri to upset Untapable by half a length at Oaklawn Park.
Untapable was making her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park last Oct. 31, her fourth Grade I win in 2014 en route to being voted the champion 3-year-old filly.
The last time the daughter of Tapit had lost while facing her own gender came when she ran third in the 2013 Grade I Hollywood Starlet. After sitting second behind Gold Medal Dancer through fractions of :24.66 and :48.96, Untapable advanced under jockey John Velazquez and looked ready to deliver her trademark kick at the quarter pole.
Proving she has found her best step at age 5, Gold Medal Dancer fought back on the inside with urging from Luis Quinonez and held her champion rival at bay to cross the wire in 1:45.92 over a track rated good and earn her first graded stakes win in her sixteenth career start.
"Every once in awhile you have to give a horse a chance to do something like this," Von Hemel said. "She's just been such a nice mare. It's taken us a little while to get in there, but I think as a 5-year-old she's going to have her best year. It was great to see her do it today."
Owned and bred by Pin Oak Stud, Gold Medal Dancer came into the Azeri off a third-place run in the Grade III Bayakoa at Oaklawn on Feb. 15 and notched her first victory since winning the Minnesota H.B.P.A. Distaff Stakes last June.
"I think maturation has been the main thing for her," said Von Hemel, who added that a run in the Grade I Apple Blossom on April 11 was "sure a possibility."
Considering the layoff and the fact Untapable was racing over a wet track for the first time in her 12 career starts, trainer Steve Asmussen viewed the defeat through a positive lens.
"The going was a little heavy and obviously it was a bit of a concern off the layoff," he said. "We were concerned not getting a chance ... to give her a breeze over the racetrack. The main thing is she comes out of it well. I think there is tremendous amount of reason for her to move forward."
The Azeri was one of two graded stakes on the undercard of the Grade II Rebel Stakes lineup. In the Grade III Razorback Handicap, 2-1 favorite Race Day fought past Midnight Hawk to win the 11⁄16-mile test by a neck.