Hot Springs, Ark. (Saturday, March 14, 2015) – The $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn marked the eagerly-anticipated 2015 debut of reigning 3-year-old Filly champion Untapable, but long shot Gold Medal Dancer spoiled the party while capturing the first graded stakes win of her career in gate-to-wire fashion.
Untapable, the 1-9 favorite in the field of five fillies and mares, broke cleanly from her spot on the rail while the winner, sent off at odds of 8-1, went right to the front under Luis Quinonez. Untapable, with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard, was in perfect position up the backside and came to Gold Medal Dancer, who set pedestrian fractions of :24.3, :48.5, and 1:39.1 through the first mile as they hit the top of the lane.
Gold Medal Dancer, a Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud homebred, dug in on the track rated as good while the champion tried to catch her down the stretch while never seeming comfortable in her first start on an off track. Gold Medal Dancer crossed the wire in 1:45.4 for the 1 1/6 miles, one-half length in front of Untatable. Pippin and Bayakoa stakes winner Mufaajah was another 2 ½ lengths behind in third.
“The track was a little heavy and obviously it was a bit of a concern off the layoff,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, who last saddled Untapable for her triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff Oct. 31. “The main thing is that she comes out of it well. There’s a lot of reasons for her to move forward off this race. It was a concern not being able to get her up here and have a work over the track, but the weather didn’t allow for that. As long as she comes out ok, we’ll be happy with this effort.”
Velazquez, who rode Untapable once before when they won the Mother Goose Stakes (G1) in dominating fashion, said, “She was in perfect position and I was happy where I was coming down the backstretch. Coming down the lane, she was a little hesitant to go by the other filly. She put in a good fight for her first start of the year. It was her first time on a wet track, but take nothing away from the winner. The winner is a nice horse.”
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel could not have been prouder of Gold Medal Dancer, a 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia D’Oro, who upped her bankroll to $629,269 with the $180,000 winner’s share of the purse and won for the seventh time in 16 starts. She paid $18.80 and $3.80. There was no show wagering on the five-horse field.
“It's very exciting and the mare just ran a huge race,” said Von Hemel. “Thanks to Pin Oak (Stud) and my entire staff. It was a team effort and I am thrilled to death. We had a chance to go out and control the pace and Luis did a great job. She fought off the champion and she showed a lot of heart. The big mare came through and got her nose down on the wire. It's sure a possibility that we'll be back for the Apple Blossom.”
The $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) is Friday, April 10.
In the $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) the Todd-Pletcher trained Race Day won the first stakes race and first graded stakes of his career under John Velazquez with a neck victory of the Bob Baffert-trained Midnight Hawk.
Race Day, who was purchased for $285,000 from a sale of racing stock last November by Matthew Schera and was making his third start for Pletcher, made every pole a winning one but had to battle through the lane with a very game Midnight Hawk, dispatched at 7-1 in the field of six horses.
After setting fractions of 23.87, 48.1, 1:12.2, and 1:38.1 the 2-1 favorite finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.1 under John Velazquez on a track rated as good. Golden Ticket closed from far back in the pack to be third, seven lengths back
“There was a lot of pace in his last race at Gulfstream and he didn’t get a good break. Today, he broke well. I loved the way he was running into the first turn. When he came down the lane, he put up a good fight,” said Velazquez.
Jim Barnes, Baffert’s assistant was pleased with Midnight Hawk, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza, as well.
“He ran huge, and he ran straight, which makes us really happy because in a lot of his past races he's been very erratic. We could not be happier with him and how well he did today,” said Barnes.
The Razorback win was the second consecutive for Pletcher, who took last year’s edition with Golden Lad. Race Day, a 4-year-old son of Tapit, boosted his earnings to $250,450 and has now won 4 of seven efforts. He returned $6.20, $4.80 and $3.60.