Untapable racing with the boys at Haskell

ASSOCIATED PRESS Untapable drinks from a hose as groomers attend to her yesterday at Monmouth Park.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Untapable drinks from a hose as groomers attend to her yesterday at Monmouth Park.
Posted: July 25, 2014

A DECADE ago, Ron Winchell thought he might have his family's first Kentucky Derby winner. Trainer Michael Dickinson knew Tapit had rare talent, but, unfortunately, a lingering lung infection trumped the talent in the spring of 2004.

"We never really knew how much talent Tapit had other than he was off the scale," Dickinson said. "He was hugely impressive winning The Laurel Futurity at 2. He encountered serious lung disease in Florida [in early 2004]."

Tapit finished sixth in the 2004 Florida Derby, but then won the Wood Memorial as a final Derby prep.

"Going into The Wood he was not fit and as it turned out he was not healthy," Dickinson said. "Going into the race I was really afraid he might finish last because I had little evidence to prove his fitness and overall health."

Instead, Tapit was so talented that he won the Wood despite the illness.

"After he won the race all he did was cough from the Winner's Circle all the way to the spit box," Dickinson said. "He was full of blood and mucous. Normally when horses are in his condition they finish last, let alone win a Grade I. Had he been healthy I'm sure he would have won more Grade I races."

Alas, the Wood was it. Tapit finished ninth, 15 3/4 lengths behind Smarty Jones, in the Kentucky Derby. The colt did not race all summer but was favored in the Pennsylvania Derby that September. Unfortunately, Tapit, starting from the 12 post on a track where inside speed was king, finished ninth. He never raced again.

Fast forward a decade. Tapit is America's No. 1 sire. One of his sons, Tonalist, won the Belmont Stakes. Another son, Constitution, won the Florida Derby. And neither of those is the best 3-year-old offspring of Tapit. That would be the filly Untapable, winner of four stakes this year by a combined 31 lengths.

Finding no competition from her own sex, Winchell, who owns Untapable, and trainer Steve Asmussen decided Sunday's Haskell at Monmouth Park was the race to test her against males.

"I thought maybe she was a turf horse because of her breeding," Winchell said from his vacation in Florence, Italy. "Steve kept telling me she would be great on dirt and he was right."

If Untapable wins the Haskell, and she is going to be favored, she will be right in the discussion with California Chrome and Palace Malice for Horse of the Year as we head into August.

Verne Winchell, aka The Donut King, got the family started in the horse business after his donut shops all over California proved to be a gold mine. Verne owned some really talented horses before passing away, but nothing like Untapable, which suggests how good a racehorse Tapit might have become had he been healthy.

Winchell still has a 50 percent interest in Tapit, who stands stud at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky. Thus far in 2014, sons and daughters of Tapit have won $8 million. Tapit's stud fee this year was $150,000. He was bred to 150 mares, a cool $22.5 million in stud fees.

The fee will be going up in 2015, dramatically.

"Maybe $250,000 or $300,000," Winchell suggested. "Gainesway will ultimately make that decision."

They probably won't breed Tapit to as many mares in 2015, looking for even more quality over quantity.

"I keep getting calls from all my friends," Winchell said. "I have three mares I'd like to breed to Tapit."

Untapable started her 2014 by winning the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the Fair Grounds, a perfect starting point for a filly trying to do what Rachel did 5 years ago - beat the boys in the Haskell.

Rachel, of course, also won the Preakness and clinched Horse of the Year by beating older males in the Woodward at Saratoga.

Untapable, who has also won the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Kentucky Oaks and the Mother Goose, is likely stepping out of her division just this once.

Winchell said the plan is for her next race to be in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Parx on Sept. 20, back against fillies. That would be her final prep for what is likely a shot at the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 31 at Santa Anita. And, yes, the owner is on his way back from Italy to see his filly run Sunday by the North Jersey Shore.

If the filly is going to lose, Bayern would appear to have the best chance. His trainer Bob Baffert has won the $1 million Haskell the last six times he had started a horse before Power Broker finished second last year.

Bayern was brilliant in the Woody Stevens Stakes on Belmont Day. The colt, however, wins with his speed. And there is other serious speed in this Haskell, including Social Inclusion and Wildcat Red.

If they go really fast early and the pace is contested, that really will help a horse that might not need any help - that daughter of Tapit named Untapable.

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