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May 3, 2014

KENTUCKY OAKS: Untapable runs away with 140th Oaks

My Miss Sophia second, Unbridled Forever third

LOUISVILLE — Untapable's dominant effort in the Kentucky Oaks gave Rosie Napravnik big momentum in her bid to become the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

Whether she follows up aboard Vicar's In Trouble on Saturday in the 140th Run for the Roses and becomes the eighth rider to complete the Oaks-Derby double remains to be seen, but Napravnik is making the Oaks her domain.

Untapable gave Napravnik her second Oaks win in three years and put her on the brink of history by surging past My Miss Sophia entering the stretch and rolling to a 4 1/2-length victory Friday in the 140th Oaks at Churchill Downs.

“We got the first half completed, so we're moving on to the second half of the double,” Napravnik said.

The overwhelming favorite in the $1 million race for 3-year-old fillies earned, Untapable raced her third straight victory and fifth in seven starts. She has won her last three by a combined margin of nearly 22 lengths.

“We got into a great position,” said Napravnik, who has ridden the horse for all but one start. “She runs her best when she can get into a great stride and she relaxes so nicely. She has grown up and she is maturing. She is magnificent.”

Untapable's victory also turned up the spotlight on trainer Steve Ausmussen, who is being investigated by Kentucky and New York racing officials after an animal rights group alleged he and his former assistant mistreated horses in their care. Ausmussen sidestepped the matter, choosing instead to focus on his horse's stellar closing run.

However, Winchell Thoroughbreds racing manager David Fiske conceded that the attention was “a little bit” of a distraction, adding, “I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. ... But we thought we had the goods when we came in here and she proved us right.”

Thanks to Napravnik, Untapable positioned herself to charge at just the right time.

Breaking from the far 13th spot, Untapable stayed within reach of early leaders Sugar Shock, My Miss Sophia and Thank You Marylou before getting clear outside turning for home. The winner ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.68, the race's second-fastest time, and paid $4, $3.20 and $2.60.

“The development of the filly, I think Rosie has been a key part of it,” Ausmussen said.

My Miss Sophia returned $4.20 and $4.40, and Unbridled Forever paid $6.

Untapable's dramatic finish followed some pre-race suspense involving two horses who violently balked in the gate.

The first was Empress of Midway, partly owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. She thrashed and flipped in the gate and then sat down for a tense moment. Jockey Corey Nakatani wasn't hurt in the fracas and stood by watching as workers quickly got the horse out; she walked away uninjured but was quickly scratched.

“She just went up in the gate and lost her balance and kind of sat down on her haunches and couldn't get herself back up in the right position,” attending track veterinarian Larry Bramlage said afterward. “We didn't see anything obviously wrong and she's back to her barn.”

Minutes after horses in surrounding gates were guided back in, second betting choice Fashion Plate also had issues before settling down. She hopped out of the gate and quickly fell behind in finishing 11th of 12 entrants.

“She was real tight in the gate,” jockey Gary Stevens said. “When (Empress of Midway) flipped, she tried to flip. She has never 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.”

At that point, Napravnik was guiding Untapable to one of her smoothest victories before 113,071, which is saying something considering how dominant she has been this year. It was no contest after Untapable caught My Miss Sophia, quickly gaining a length and widening the gap.

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