Untapable falls victim to Baffert's magic

July, 28, 2014

Going into the $1 million Haskell all of the talk centered around the wonder filly Untapable.

After the race, the center of attention was the fleet colt with the Captain Obvious connections.

As Untapable withered on a hot day at the Jersey Shore and checked in fifth, the Haskell went to Bayern who gave trainer Bob Baffert an unprecedented and mind-boggling seventh victory Sunday in the Grade 1, mile-and-an-eighth test.

Yes, seventh.

In racing's latest Battle of the Sexes, not even a filly as accomplished as Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable had an answer for Baffert's magic in Monmouth's summertime classic as Bayern took the lead at the start and never looked back. He romped by 7 ¼ lengths, and even though Baffert's list of previous Haskell winners included Triple Crown race winners like Point Given, Lookin At Lucky and War Emblem, none of them won as decisively as Bayern.

For statistical purposes, he completed the nine furlongs in 1:47.82, the fastest time since another spectacular filly, Rachel Alexandra, won by six lengths in 1:47.21 in the 2009 edition. Sent off as 9-2 co-second choice, he returned $11.40, a highly generous payoff for anyone with a keen knowledge of the Haskell stat book.

And he did all of that in dominant fashion in a race that was supposed to belong to the second coming of Rachel Alexandra.

"We could have gone around 25 more times," said Larry Jones, trainer of runner-up Albano, "and we still weren't going to get him."

Steve Asmussen, trainer of Untapable, and Rachel Alexandra for that matter, did not raise the white flag as high. He felt the racetrack was too speed-favoring and worked against his filly's late kick.

"She didn't get away well at all," said Asmussen, whose filly was a 7-5 favorite in her first test against males, "and was never in position to win the race the way the track was playing today."

Speed certainly did haed its way at Monmouth on Sunday, yet the manner in which Untapable was unable to catch the horses directly in front of her -- Albano, Wildcat Red (third) and Irish You Well (fourth) -- the brilliance that she displayed against fillies earlier in the year was clearly missing. A winner of her four starts against fillies this year by a combined 31 lengths, she finished a no-factor, 9 ¼ lengths behind Bayern.

Bayern runs to victory in the 2014 Haskell Invitational.Equi-Photo/Bill DenverFront-running Bayern, far right, benefited from a fast track, but was much the best in the Haskell.
"That's the most I ever had to ask of her," said jockey Rosie Napravnik.

That's all together logical considering the hole in the wind carved out by Bayern, who proved himself to be a far different brand of runner than the 3-year-old fillies Untapable had been terrorizing.

Back in early March, Bayern was supposed to be the favorite in the San Felipe, but had to be scratched because of a bruised foot. Instead, California Chrome won the San Felipe and fate took the two horses on divergent paths.

California Chrome went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness, while Bayern recovered and finished third in the Arkansas Derby, was disqualified to second in the Derby Trial and was ninth in the Preakness when an awful start prevented him from flashing his customary early speed.

A scintillating 7 ½-length score in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard changed all of that. It inspired Baffert to try his luck once again in the Haskell and after his latest triumph at the Jersey Shore, while he considered the seven-furlong King's Bishop for Bayern next start, he now has bigger and better things on his mind.

"Everything's on the radar," said Baffert, when asked about the possibility of running Bayern in the mile-and-a-quarter Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23. "Before this I said we were going to the King's Bishop, but I don't think I'll back him up after this.

"It looks like he has it all together now. He's slowly maturing. The older he gets, the better he gets."

Baffert's unwillingness to target Bayern's next race would seem to play into doubts that Bayern will be as effective at a mile and a quarter in the Travers or even the year-end Breeders' Cup Classic. Yet on Sunday it certainly seemed as if he had finally caught up with the likes of California Chrome -- even if it was about three months late.

"It would be a great matchup with all of them," said Bayern's owner Kaleem Shah when asked about the possibility of facing California Chrome and 2-year-old champion Shared Belief at some point in the year. "Hopefully all three will hook up. It would be a great race."

One that will go a long way toward erasing any lingering what-ifs over a bruised foot that popped up at the most inopportune of times.

"You can't dwell on the past," Shah added.

Nor should you bet against Bob Baffert in the Haskell. Just ask the seven colts and one tarnished filly who finished behind him Sunday.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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