04/30/2014 9:14AM

Kentucky Oaks: Asmussen likes his chances with Untapable

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Debra A. Roma
Untapable, trained by Steve Asmussen (right), is the 4-5 morning-line favorite heading into Friday's Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Steve Asmussen was a mere spectator five years ago at Churchill Downs when Rachel Alexandra set a Kentucky Oaks record by winning the filly classic by 20 lengths.

“That’s the day she made the transition from a horse with a lot of ability to a true superstar,” Asmussen said. “That was her coming-out party.”

Shortly after the Oaks and a private sale, Asmussen was hired on as the trainer of Rachel Alexandra, who would go on to become the Horse of the Year for 2009. This history lesson has some similarities to what might unfold here Friday, when Asmussen puts a saddle on the heavily favored Untapable for the 140th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Oaks.

Untapable, bred and owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, is an odds-on morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks, the anchor event on a sensational 12-race card that starts at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Untapable is held in such high regard mostly because of recent performances in New Orleans, where she easily won the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra and Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks.

“Obviously, she’s not at the same level Rachel made it to,” Asmussen said, “but you’d have to say the stage is set for something good to happen.”

With Rosie Napravnik riding, Untapable will break from the outside gate in a field of 13 3-year-old fillies in the Oaks, and Asmussen said the post might be more of an advantage than not.

“There’s enough of a run to the first turn for Rosie to use the filly’s speed to get position,” Asmussen said. “Plus, there’s less of a chance to find trouble with another horse pressuring you from the outside. I’m more than good with that post.”

Napravnik, a 26-year-old New Jersey native who has been a leading jockey in Maryland, Louisiana, and Kentucky, made history two years ago aboard Believe You Can when she became the first woman jockey to win the Oaks. She has been aboard Untapable in all but one of the filly’s six career starts, with the Fair Grounds Oaks being most noteworthy for this compelling reason: Five of the last 10 Kentucky Oaks winners have exited that race, a remarkable span that also includes one year (2006) when Fair Grounds was shuttered.

Beyond Untapable, the balance of the Oaks field appears very well matched, with Ria Antonia, Rosalind, Fashion Plate, and My Miss Sophia being the secondary favorites.

Ria Antonia (post 2, Mike Smith), the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by disqualification six months ago, rebounded from a disappointing effort in the Rachel Alexandra to finish a good second as the favorite in her most recent race, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

Rosalind (post 4, Joel Rosario), a dead-heat winner of the Grade 1 Ashland last out, has been a consistent and versatile filly and is “coming into this about as good as I can get her,” trainer Ken McPeek said.

Fashion Plate (post 7, Gary Stevens) figures to have her name called quite a bit by new Churchill announcer Larry Collmus, given her penchant for flashing big speed, which she used in sweeping back-to-back Grade 1 races, the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks.

My Miss Sophia (post 11, Javier Castellano) also has a terrific turn of foot and will be trying to give Todd Pletcher his fourth Oaks victory. Pletcher also will send out longshot Got Lucky (post 12, John Velazquez).

The rest of the Oaks lineup is Please Explain, Sugar Shock, Thank You Marylou, Kiss Moon, Aurelia’s Belle, Unbridled Forever, and Empress of Midway.

The Oaks goes as the 11th of 12 races and follows five other stakes: the Grade 1 La Troienne (race 5), the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (race 6), the Grade 3 Eight Belles (race 8), the Edgewood (race 9), and the Grade 2 Alysheba (race 10).

The Oaks is part of a three-hour broadcast on NBC Sports Network that starts at 3 p.m., with post time set for 5:49. The race starts a pair of two-day wagers, the $1 Oaks-Derby double and the 50-cent Oaks-Woodford-Derby pick three.

An ontrack crowd of more than 100,000 is expected to enjoy Oaks Day under partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 63.

The Oaks is as old as the Kentucky Derby, having first been run in 1875, when Vinaigrette was the winner. The race is a perennial factor in divisional honors, with recent champions Ashado (2004), Rags to Riches (2007), Proud Spell (2008), and Rachel Alexandra having won this race.