Best of Untapable still to come

Steve Asmussen speaks about her in a tone that mingles reverence with a good measure of marvel. Every horse is unique, of course, but within parameters. Untapable pushes the parameters, takes everything to the horizon.

"She's different from other horses," her trainer said. "She's a beautiful, gorgeous lady, and she knows it and she insists on being treated accordingly."

For Saturday's Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, the gorgeous lady is the 1-5 favorite in the morning line. Untapable's odds might suggest an outcome that's more preordained than competitive, a race that could be more of an exhibition than a contest; by any metric she appears to be several lengths superior to any of her rivals, even on their best days and even if they're ridden by X-Men. But that doesn't mean the Mother Goose is void of intrigue. It has a foreshadowing potential that invests it with significance. With her performance Saturday, Untapable could choose her path for the remainder of the year; the Mother Goose, in other words, could determine the immediate future of one of the most exciting and talented horses in the country.

"The [Kentucky] Oaks was the objective for her when the year started," Asmussen said. "At this stage, we have many options with her. We'd think about running her against the 'boys,' but everything depends on how she does Saturday."

Untapable's a keg of nitroglycerine, always a spark away from combustion. And if she's also "a beautiful, gorgeous lady," she's of the Maureen O'Hara or Cameron Diaz type, which still means she's a spark away from combustion. Sometimes, in the morning, when she prances onto the track for a routine gallop, tightly wound, her neck bowed and mischief in her eye, the powerful filly seems to be suggesting she'd just as soon jump over the oval; but she's also receptive, if you treat her with respectful deference and frequently say "please," to any suggestions of running around it, and then, well, in the afternoons, she simply runs faster than anybody that happens to be sharing the track with her. She won the Kentucky Oaks by more than four lengths, the Fair Grounds Oaks by nearly eight and the Rachel Alexandra Stakes by more than nine, and she won with such aplomb and ease that each victory became more insistent in arguing that she's not just the best 3-year-old filly in the country but possibly the best 3-year-old period.

That's why Saturday's race, even if it's not very competitive, could be so important. In 2009, her Mother Goose romp indicated that Rachel Alexandra was ready to take on the "boys" again -- she already had won the Preakness, in her first start for Asmussen. And after she so convincingly and authoritatively won at Belmont, taking the Mother Goose by more than 19 lengths, Asmussen traveled with her to Monmouth Park, where she cruised in the Haskell, winning by six lengths over Summer Bird.

The situation this year is comparable. The 3-year-olds of 2009 weren't a strong group. Mine That Bird, who would become more famous than he was formidable, won the Kentucky Derby before finishing second in the Preakness, and Summer Bird, who won the Belmont, would go on to be named the champion colt, even though he had a total of four victories in his career; but neither could warm up the Amazonian filly that won the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths and later defeated older males while becoming the first filly ever to win the Woodward.

Can any of this year's 3-year-old colts match strides with Untapable? California Chrome's vacationing in his home state, and those that remain at the track, to this point anyway, are neither formidable nor intimidating. Tonalist, Medal Count, Wicked Strong, Samraat -- they would have to improve lengths just to threaten Untapable, and that's only if she doesn't improve, too.

But she probably will, or at least there's reason to think she will, improve, just as Rachel Alexandra did in the summer of 2009. Having won eight of her 11 races, her only losses coming the previous season, Rachel Alexandra stepped forward in the Mother Goose. Untapable's lightly raced. She goes into Saturday's Mother Goose having won five of her seven races, her only losses occurring last year, and she has steadily moved forward. In the Kentucky Oaks, she took her performance to a level that was comparable to Rachel Alexandra's in the Preakness. And if Untapable can step forward again and put on a show Saturday, she'll argue for getting an opportunity in the Haskell on July 27 to prove just how good she might be and to define herself in historically significant ways. Every racehorse deserves the opportunity for self-definition.

And for Untapable, there's another incentive to take on the "boys." It's the oldest motivation in the sport. If she steps outside her division, she could run for more than twice the money. The Coaching Club American Oaks, run on July 20 at Saratoga, and the Alabama Stakes, run there on Aug. 16, offer purses totaling $900,000. But the purses for the Haskell and the Travers, on Aug. 23 at Saratoga, total $2,250,000.

But it all depends on Saturday's Mother Goose. Asmussen said Untapable is doing well and training well. She'll run well, he said. But of course she will. With her, the essential question never concerns ability. Will she continue to show the poise and maturity that have distinguished her development this year, will she continue to focus on the task at hand and will she maintain her weight and energy -- those are the questions she takes to the track with her, and if she provides answers that demonstrate she's ready for even more demanding challenges, then the next two months could be among the best this year for racing.