LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A beleaguered Steve Asmussen, subject of a recent report that accused him of mistreating horses he trains, somewhat answered the criticism here Friday by saddling the winner of the $1-million Kentucky Oaks.
Asmussen's Untapable, the prohibitive favorite in this second-richest race in the country for female horses (after the $2-million Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic), cruised home 4 1/2 lengths clear of second-place My Miss Sophia.
Asked what made Untapable special, Asmussen said, "How fast she is."
Untapable was ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who became the first female jockey to win the Oaks in its 138th running two years ago. Untapable gave her a second Oaks.
"She gets into a great stride," Napravnik said, "and she relaxed so nicely, better than you can ask any horse to do."
That was especially key because the start of the race was delayed for several minutes when Empress Of Midway flipped backward in the gate. She was eventually taken out and scratched. Her jockey, Corey Nakatani, escaped injury and the other horses and jockeys were taken out and reloaded.
The incident seemed to affect several horses, especially Gary Stevens' Fashion Plate, who finished 11th.
"As soon as the gate opened [and Fashion Plate didn't respond], my race was over," Stevens said. "It was very disappointing."
Asmussen, who has been cordial but mostly noncommittal to reporters this week, gave an interview to NBC in which he called the charges against him by animal rights organization PETA "horribly misleading." He also hinted at a possible lawsuit against PETA.
When Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness and became the first filly to do so in 85 years, Asmussen was her trainer.
"I think Tapiture would have to speed up to catch Untapable," he said, adding that he will make that call depending on how Tapiture performs in the Derby.
Jockey Mike Smith, who lost his Derby ride Thursday when Bob Baffert scratched Hoppertunity because of a sore left front foot, got something out of his trip to Kentucky when he won the Grade III Eight Belles on Fiftyshadesofgold.… Pablo Del Monte, who had a spot in the 20-horse Derby field when Hoppertunity scratched, will not run. His owners decided to focus on the Preakness.… Uncle Sigh, a 30-1 Derby shot, will wear blinkers for the first time. Last year, Palace Malice wore blinkers for the first time and took off on such a fast pace that it affected much of the strategy in the race, eventually won by Orb.... Stevens will ride California horse Candy Boy in the Derby, and trainer John Sadler, while saying his horse is training well, expressed unhappiness that he had drawn the No. 18 post. "If there is one thing I would change, Sadler said, "I'd have him breaking out of post 10."… Friday's attendance was 113,071.