In 2009, when Rachel Alexandra destroyed a field of seven in the Kentucky Oaks winning by 20 lengths, it was not long before many in the media were wondering when she would be facing colts. In all fairness it wasn’t too long after that they got their answer. Almost immediately after 56-1 shot, Mine That Bird shocked the world by sneaking up the rail at Churchill Downs, the connections of Rachael Alexandra had the Preakness Stakes in their sites.
So this year it came as something of a surprise when there was very little conversation after this years Kentucky Derby whether the best three year old who ran on that first weekend in May would be contending the Derby winner in the Preakness.
For anyone who watched the Kentucky Oaks that Friday, there was no question that the best horse that weekend was Untapable. On that day, Untapable confirmed that rank by handily beating an imposing field of 12 fillies. What was so impressive about that race was that she broke from post 13 to win. Ironically that happens to be the same post that Rachael Alexandra broke from when wining the Preakness Stakes.
There are many similarities between these two fillies, most notably their running style and dominance. In addition both have a distinctive blaze on their nose, both have come up though the Churchill/Fairgrounds circuit. Most importantly, both horses have or were trained by trainer Steve Assmussen, who has put both fillies on a comparable path to greatness.
After both fillies asserted their dominance in the spring portion of the season, they similarly began the summer by running in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont Park. Predictably they both destroyed the opposition, which left trainer Steve Assmussen with only one option. That option was to raise the bare a notch and run against colts. Back in 09’ it was to leave no dispute as to who the honor for Horse of the Year belonged to, as Rachael had already beaten colts by winning the Preakness.
This time Steve Assmussen will be exposing Untapable; a five-time stakes winner, to a wider audience for the first time. It’s no secret that it’s the colts that take a majority of press during the Triple Crown season, which means that if an owner wants to make a case for their filly then they have to enter her against the boys. This exposure may have played into the decision the connections made at the time because of the scrutiny trainer Steve Assmussn was under regarding a PETA video that was released at the time. Or maybe they felt like the homebred from Winchell Thoroughbreds just needed a rest after a grueling early season campaign.
By the time Rachel Alexandra took to the muddy track at Monmouth Park in 09’ everyone was well aware of her ability and class, the added exposure only would serve to increase her legend. Even against top quality colts she was bet hard, down to 2-5 by post time. As she galloped onto the track, even the most novice of fans couldn’t help but be impressed with her long leggy, athletic stature. However, by the time they put her in the winner’s circle, it would be the most seasoned of horsemen who would be hard pressed to say that they weren’t impressed by what they had just seen. In a much different style from her Preakness win - where she took an early lead and held off all challenges, her Haskell was more of a display of her natural ability to sustain a high cruising speed and make high level competition look like bottom level claimers.
Some of the high level competition she made look bad that day were, Summer Bird; winner of the Belmont Stakes who would go on to win the grade 1 Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup, as well as multiple stakes winners Duke of Mischief and Munnings.
On Sunday July 27th Untapable will take her four race-winning streak to the Jersey Shore, where a win would catapult her to Horse of the Year status as well as cinch her Eclipse title for best three-year-old filly.
She will be facing a field of eight other colts. Of those eight, four have run in Triple Crown races, but none have won a grade one race. The biggest win may have come from Bayern, who was impressive in winning the Grade II Woody Stevens on Belmont day. In that race he defeated another contender in Sundays race, the six, horse Social Inclusion, who gained prominence by defeating Honor Code at Gulfstream Park. Bayern is the second choice in the morning line with odds of 5-2. Bayern also has the advantage of being trained by Bob Baffert who has dominated the Haskell in recent years, the California based trainer has taken to the Jersey shore winning since Invitationals’ since 2001.