When Untapable crossed the finish line in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, it capped a brilliant season in which the only blemish was a valid attempt to take on colts in the Haskell Invitational. That race also marked the announcement by superstar jockey Rosie Napravnik’s of her pregnancy and subsequent retirement from the sport. It was certainly a bittersweet moment for two girls in the sport of kings. Since that day there is no question that there has been a gap felt by the sport left by Rosie’s absence. Also feeling the absence of Rosie was the 2014 three-year-old filly Eclipse award winner. In 2015 Untapable’s only win in six races came in the Grade 1 Apple Bloosom at Oaklawn Park. Although she was piloted by world class jockey J.R. Velaquez, all year, she couldn’t seem to find her groove despite going off as a heavy favorite in five of those six races. It’s important to note that she didn’t run poorly, she did cash in every race, running no worse than third in the G1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga in August. However, no one who saw her brilliantly destroy one deep contentious field after the other in her three-year-old season would feel like that was the same horse.
Was it the absence of Rosie? Perhaps, but there have been cases where filly’s who have had great three-year-old season’s did not perform well after that. Racheal Alexandra is a good example of that. She never really returned to form after her glorious win against boys in the Woodward Handicap.
Perhaps Rosie had a special feel for Untapable that is hard to translate. Some jockeys get an intimate sense of what a horse needs or how best to ride them. It isn’t always about putting the best jockeys on the best horse and watching them win. There are inexplicable nuances in all sports. Sometimes a career .240 hitter may have a Hall of Fame pitcher’s number. Perhaps in the case of Untapable, the difference between winning races like the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and getting second in races like the Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap is a subtle nudge on the reigns at the right time only Rosie Napravnik knew about?
Nevertheless, it’s tough to think a jockey like J.R. Velazquez hasn’t mastered the touch of knowing when to ask a top quality thoroughbred to get down to business. In fact, his patience and feel around a racetrack, is one of the key qualities the Hall of Fame jockey is best known for. It could be that the champion filly was simply exhausted last year from a challenging campaign the year before. After all her connections scratched Untapable before last year’s Breeders’ Cup after she was scoped with mucus following a workout. After that she was given a much needed six- month rest. There is no question she needed the rest.
Saturday her rest is over and Untapable will step on the track at Oaklawn Park – the scene of her last victory (G1 Apple Blossom). She is entered as the even money favorite in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes. Her reputation will proceed her as she will very likely go off at shorter odds than that. As for who will be getting the ‘leg up’ from trainer Steve Asmussen? Well it’s going to be up and coming jockey Florent Geroux. Geroux has been on a lot of trainers’ radar since a victory on 19-1 shot Work All Week in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He followed that up with a stellar 2015 year and capped the year off with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, this time he was on 15-1 shot Mongolian Saturday.
On paper the five-year-old champion should beat these horses, but what remains to be scene is whether it will be the 2015 Untapable who would have to grind away to get up in time, or the 2014 Untapable who would beat these horses by 10 lengths.