06/29/2014 10:43AM

Watchmaker: Untapable not ready for the boys just yet


** I’m not going to get too hung up on Untapable receiving a pedestrian Beyer Speed Figure of only 94 for winning the Mother Goose at Belmont. I mean, how many more lengths did you want her to win by for her to post a faster final time? Wasn’t winning by 9 1/4 lengths enough? And I’m not going to make that big of a deal over the fact that behind Untapable, the 3-year-old filly division this year remains a hungry one. That isn’t Untapable’s fault.

But even a day later, I am surprised that the door was opened following the Mother Goose for Untapable possibly to face males July 27 in the Haskell at Monmouth. As a Twitter follower correctly posted to me Saturday afternoon, a start by Untapable against males in the Haskell makes sense because it would have absolutely no bearing on her status for a divisional championship, which looks to be just about a lock at this point. And if Untapable should win the Haskell, that win over males would go a long way toward bolstering her chances for Horse of the Year honors.

The thing is, apparently unlike a lot of other folks, I’ve always been a little skeptical of the whole “Untapable is the best 3-year-old of either sex” thing. In fact, I think she might have big trouble with a genuinely capable 3-year-old male.

Some think that Wildcat Red might be that male. Wildcat Red is Haskell-bound after a romp in Saturday’s Quality Road Stakes at Gulfstream over hopelessly outclassed opposition, not unlike Untapable’s romp in the Mother Goose. But while Wildcat Red put the bad memory of his unsuccessful attempt at the Kentucky Derby behind him, he still has things to prove to me. Yes, he was beaten only a neck when second in the Florida Derby but after getting away with setting a slow early pace. And it is true Wildcat Red won the Fountain of Youth, but he did so riding the crest of a speed-biased track.

Bayern is the one who should make Untapable’s connections think long and hard about going after the Haskell. Bayern was simply awesome winning the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard with blinkers back on. He might even have been the most impressive horse to perform on that star-studded program. But it appears some people think that just because the Stephens was run at seven furlongs, Bayern has distance limitations, and I don’t understand where they get that.

Bayern was unsuccessful going long in the Preakness, but he was obliterated in the early stages, and that outing is a complete throw out. His previous route attempt came in the Arkansas Derby, in which he finished a tired third after setting the pace. But Bayern missed his prep for the Arkansas Derby because of a minor illness, and as a result, he was making his first start in two months that day. And he was probably rushed a bit to make that start as he desperately was seeking points to secure a berth in the Kentucky Derby. People seem to forget that in his second career start, his race before the Arkansas Derby, Bayern went two turns at Santa Anita, and all he did was win by 15 lengths. He’s a better horse now, and he’s by Offlee Wild, out of a Thunder Gulch mare. Why wouldn’t Bayern be equally effective going a route?

** Without wanting to take a thing away from Majestic Harbor, who registered by far the biggest victory of his career and did so in overwhelming fashion, I have to see validation in future races before I accept the form of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. I realize the pace was very fast, but a fast pace doesn’t automatically mean a race has to devolve into a stagger fest. The final quarter of the Gold Cup was, according to the official chart, a slow 26.39 seconds, and yet somehow, Majestic Harbor was the only one going forward late (even that’s relative), and he somehow collected a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his efforts.

Of course, the weary fourth-place finish from Game On Dude in the Gold Cup was as big, if not bigger story. Game On Dude certainly seemed to be undone by Fury Kapcori’s Quarter Horse approach Saturday. Still, it seemed hard to believe this was the same Game On Dude who was so impressive winning the Big Cap at the distance over the track less than four months ago. Game On Dude is 7, and while it is too early to suggest there are no more glory days ahead for him, all athletes, if they stick around long enough, have to deal with decline. Ask Derek Jeter.

But please, don’t tell me that what happened Saturday is some sort of proof that Game On Dude, is, and always was, a California fake. Geez, he’s finished first or second in 23 of 33 races, has earned more than $6.4 million, and most importantly, he has operated at a high level over a number of years. You might not be a fan, and that’s fine. But you can’t do what Game On Dude has done over time with only smoke and mirrors.

** Speaking of potential decline, that was an alarming no show by Sahara Sky in the Triple Bend. The Triple Bend seemed like a turning point race for Sahara Sky. His form was spotty this year, but with some excuses, and now he was back home at his favorite distance against a field he would have had for breakfast last year. He never got involved.

** Do you want to know why horseplayers get angry? Check out how the Firecracker Stakes at Churchill Downs was run. The whole world knew that Silver Max was by far the best horse in the Firecracker, even if he was coming off a near eight-month layoff. But Silver Max is a want-the-lead type. So is Firecracker entrant Free World. Free World’s races before Saturday when he didn’t have the early lead weren’t anywhere near the same quality as the races when he ambled right to the front. In other words, it looked as though Free World would take the starch out of Silver Max early, a not-insignificant point considering Silver Max was going to be a heavy favorite.

So what happened? Silver Max broke on the button and went right to the top. Free World didn’t break as sharply but was immediately taken well in hand. The Firecracker was over in the first 100 yards when it was clear that Free World was going to offer no early challenge whatsoever to Silver Max. Silver Max got away with fractions that were nothing for him and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Free World finished fifth.

Horseplayers get angry when horses are taken out of their games, throwing as critical a handicapping principle as pace right out the window.

** I was not a big believer in Riposte going into the New York Stakes. I thought Riposte lost a couple of races she shouldn’t have lost early in the year, and I thought her win last time out in the Sheepshead Bay was a function of her getting away with a very easy, very slow pace on off footing. But Riposte turned me around Saturday. I thought she was in trouble when she missed her break and had to run from off the pace, but Riposte still proved clearly best over a solid mare in Tannery.

** Parranda must be living right. In her first graded stakes win this year in the Suwannee River, she got away with a walking lead. In her second graded stakes win this year in the Wilshire, she rallied into a very fast, contested early pace. And in her third graded stakes win this year in Saturday’s Royal Heroine, Parranda fell into a dream trip when Dutchessa went up in the middle stages to bang heads with pacesetter Kathleen Rose. That softened Kathleen Rose up just enough for Parranda to beat her by a neck.

** Vicar’s in Trouble might be a mini Game On Dude in the respect that he did not appear at all at home rating just off the pace in the Iowa Derby. Vicar’s in Trouble wants to roll early.