Horses

Champion Untapable to make season debut in Azeri Stakes

It is a credit to the standard Untapable set for herself during her 3-year-old season that many still question why the champion mare went off form for much of 2015.

Viewed through a broader lens, few would categorize a year that produced a Grade I win and five other graded stakes places as a disappointment. But when the horse in question is coming off a season where she dominated her division en route to a Breeders’ Cup triumph and Eclipse Award hardware, good performances get downgraded when put up against the greatness that came before.

When the daughter of Tapit spiked a fever days out from the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and was withdrawn from the race she had captured 12 months earlier, it was a fittingly frustrating end to a campaign that seemed a tick off throughout. It wasn’t the way any of her connections wanted her to go out, not without getting every chance to show what her usual self is still capable of.

Now at the age of 5 and reportedly training as robust as ever, champion Untapable is set to make her seasonal bow this Saturday against seven challengers in the Grade II, $350,000 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the same race she finished second in a year ago to kick off what was deemed an unsatisfying campaign.

Whether or not Untapable can regain the form that saw her win six of seven starts in 2014 including four Grade I contests en route to being named champion 3-year-old filly, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred is already off to a better beginning than she was this time a year ago when a spate of terrible weather at both her base at Fair Grounds at Oaklawn Park last season compromised her training leading into her 2015 debut.

Though she did win the Grade I Apple Blossom last April, it was as if the bay mare was never able to fully out from behind the eight ball. Though she was never worse than third, she lost four straight to close out 2015 including a brutal neck beat to Got Lucky in the Grade I Spinster last October.

“She’s gotten the break this year with the weather and training,” said David Fiske, manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds. “Last year before the Azeri, the weather was real crappy at Oaklawn and Fair Grounds and they had missed I don’t know how many days of training in New Orleans. Then she was supposed to ship up to Oaklawn and get at least one work over the track and the weather kind of messed that up so she didn’t up there as early as we wanted to and she didn’t get a work over the track.

“Then...the whole year kind of went like that. She was half a beat off. She was half a note flat all year long. But she’s been doing great. Knock on wood, she’s never been training better.”

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Untapable’s pedigree and race record are such that she could go to the sire of her connections’ choosing once the day comes for her to transition to being a broodmare. She has the rest of her life to see if she can pass her tenacity and talent onto her foals, however.

In an age when many equine stars are quickly whisked off the breeding shed, her people want to give the 2014 Kentucky Oaks heroine every opportunity to see how great she can be against the best of her generation.

“She’s happy, she’s sound and she has no problems,” Fiske said. “She likes doing what she is doing. So we’ll see what happens.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

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