LOUISVILLE, KY. -- Heavy favorite Untapable blazed to victory in the Kentucky Oaks Friday, a triumph for jockey Rosie Napravnik and controversial trainer Steve Asmussen.
Napravnik kept Untapable a few paces off the lead for much of the run, then pulled away to win by 41/2 lengths. The performance didn't quite match Rachel Alexandra's 20-length win in 2009, but the even-money favorite lived up to high expectations.
"She is magnificent," said Napravnik, who was plenty good herself in winning a second Oaks. She's the only female jockey ever to win the $1 million stakes for fillies.
Untapable's triumph hardly came without narrative complications, however. Her trainer, Asmussen, stands at the center of thoroughbred racing's controversy du jour.
In March, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed complaints in New York and Kentucky, alleging animal cruelty and misuse of drugs in Asmussen's barn. The organization also released undercover video of Asmussen's longtime assistant, Scott Blasi, making coarse comments about running injured horses.
Asmussen is under investigation in both states, and he fired Blasi in the wake of the allegations, which were first reported by The New York Times. He also saw his name removed from this year's Hall of Fame ballot.
Asked about the controversy after his filly's win, Asmussen said: "I'm just glad Untapable showed who she is. She's the star today."
Later, he said he stood behind his comments from an NBC Sports Network interview, broadcast Friday, in which he called the PETA charges "horribly misleading."
Untapable's owner, Ron Winchell, was asked why he kept his horses with Asmussen through the controversy.
"I'm comfortable with everything I've experienced," he said of their relationship.
Comparisons to Rachel Alexandra are inevitable now that Untapable has submitted her own star turn in the Oaks. Asmussen trained Rachel Alexandra after the 2009 Oaks, guiding her to a Preakness victory and Horse of the Year honors.
Asked about entering Untapable in the Preakness, Asmussen said he hopes his colt, Tapiture, wins the Kentucky Derby Saturday and goes on to Baltimore. He wouldn't race the two against each other. But he added that "Tapiture would have to speed up to catch her."
The win also set up a potentially historic weekend for Napravnik.
On Saturday, she'll try to become the first woman to ride a Kentucky Derby winner, though she'll face a difficult challenge, starting Vicar's in Trouble from the No. 2 post. Of the post position, she said "everybody else is more concerned about [it] than I am."
Napravnik began her career in Maryland and has risen to become the country's most successful female jockey. In 2012, she became the first female jockey to win the Oaks, riding Believe You Can.
She's used to being a hero to her gender, and proud of it.
"Having all those women and little girls in my corner, it is inspiring to me to inspire other people," she said.
Pablo Del Monte will not run in the Kentucky Derby, his trainer said Friday morning, leaving the field for Saturday's race at 19 horses.
As an also-eligible entrant, he could have taken the spot vacated by Hoppertunity, who was scratched Thursday morning because of a bruised left front foot. But Pablo Del Monte's connections instead opted to stick with their plan of pointing the colt toward the May 17 Preakness. The prospect of starting the Derby from the No. 20 post was too daunting.
They still had to pay a $25,000 entry fee for the race.
With post No. 11 vacated by Hoppertunity, the horses in posts 1-10 will all move a spot off the rail, meaning no one will start from post No. 1.
All entrants in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks passed out-of-competition drug tests, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced Friday.
The commission collected samples over the last two weeks from all the horses in the two races and from a cross section of entrants in other weekend stakes races, said medical director Mary Scollay.
twitter.com/ChildsWalkerCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun