Untapable wasn't unstoppable in her season debut March 14, missing the victory by half a length to longshot gate-to-wire winner Gold Medal Dancer in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park (VIDEO).
Winchell Thoroughbreds' 3-year-old filly champion and Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) victress was making her long-awaited 4-year-old debut for trainer Steve Asmussen as the 1-9 favorite in a field of five, but it was Pin Oak Stable's 5-year-old Gold Medal Dancer who stole the 1 1/16-mile test at odds of 8-1.
Galloping home under a light drizzle at the Arkansas oval, she turned back Untapable while finishing in 1:45.92 over a track that was rated good, but downgraded to sloppy shortly thereafter. The Azeri was Untapable's first start on a wet track.
"The track was a little heavy and obviously it was a bit of a concern off the layoff," Asmussen said. "The main thing is that (Untapable) comes out of it well. There's a lot of reasons for her to move forward off this race. It was a concern not being able to get her up here (from Louisiana) and have a work over the track, but the weather didn't allow for that. As long as she comes out OK, we'll be happy with this effort."
Trainer Donnie Von Hemel had never saddled Gold Medal Dancer to a graded victory, although the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro took the Minnesota H. B. P. A. Distaff Stakes at Canterbury Park last June in the mud.
That was in the middle of a sensational 3-year-old campaign for Untapable, who captured six of her seven starts, including grade I scores in the Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose Stakes, and Cotillion Stakes, in addition to the Distaff. Her only defeat came against colts in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I).
"We thought we had a chance to be able to get out there and control the race, and (jockey) Luis (Quinonez) did a great job," Von Hemel said. "The big mare came to her and we got the better today. Of course, it was Untapable's first race of the year and all, but (Gold Medal Dancer) got her nose down."
Untapable was off a step slow at the start of the Azeri after acting a bit fractious in the gate under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in post 1, while Gold Medal Dancer broke alertly from post 4 and settled out on an easy lead well off the rail with Quinonez in the irons.
"We had the perfect trip. I just tried to get her to relax," Quinonez said. "She came out of the gates relaxed and I just let her do it. I said 'Wait, wait, wait,' and when (Untapable) came to her, she wouldn't let her by. It was great. Donnie did a great job getting her ready."
Gold Medal Dancer, coming off a third in the Feb. 15 Bayakoa Stakes (gr. III)—her first start since August of 2014—galloped along through splits of :24.66 and :48.96 while maintaining a 1 1/2-length advantage over Untapable, who was slightly rank early while coming back for her first outing since winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park Oct. 31.
Velazquez shifted Untapable out from the rail position and tracked the frontrunner on the outside before beginning to inch up through three-quarters in 1:13.85, but although Untapable made a determined closing run on the outside and came within a head of the winner, she could not make up enough ground to her put away. As a mile went in 1:39.37, Gold Medal Dancer fought back determinedly on the inside to maintain her advantage, and turned back the champion to earn her first graded score.
"She was in perfect position," Velazquez said of Untapable. "I was happy was happy where I was. Coming down the lane she was a little hesitant to go by the other filly. She put in a good fight for her first start of the year. It was her first time on a wet track, but take nothing from the winner. The winner was a nice horse."
Von Hemel said it was "sure a possibility" that Gold Medal Dancer will continue on to the April 10 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), a race where Untapable could also run again, depending on how she exits this run. The last time the champion lost against her own sex was as a juvenile, when she finished third in the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) in December of 2013.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Pin Oak Stud out of the Kingmambo mare Bachata and improved her record to 7-4-1 from 16 starts for earnings of $529,269. She has won three of four starts at Oaklawn.