ARCADIA, Calif. — Untapable and jockey Rosie Napravnik can close out a stellar year with a victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The path to the winner’s circle has been made a bit easier by the absence of defending champion Beholder.
Beholder spiked a fever last week, removing the biggest threat from Friday’s headline race on the opening day of the two-day world championships at Santa Anita.
Her absence cast Untapable in the role of the early 5-2 favorite for the 11?8-mile race.
“We’re expecting a big race out of her,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, whose best finish in the Distaff was second with My Miss Aurelia two years ago.
Asmussen followed a similar game plan with Untapable that he first tried in 2012. He sent the filly to California right after she won the Cotillion in Pennsylvania last month, giving Untapable extra time to settle in at Santa Anita.
“Getting to California early has worked extremely well for our horses,” he said.
Untapable and Napravnik have been together for all but two of the 3-year-old filly’s 10 career starts. They are 5 of 6 this year, including a victory in the Kentucky Oaks in May. The only blemish was a fifth-place finish against the boys in the Haskell Invitational.
“She’s an extremely talented filly,” Asmussen said. “This is as good as she’s been and I feel really good because she’s run some strong races this year.”
Napravnik has just one Breeders’ Cup victory in her career, winning the Juvenile two years ago with Shanghai Bobby. She has a mount in the $1 million Dirt Mile on Friday with Tapiture.
It was a blow to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella when he had to keep Beholder in the barn because of her illness. But he has a rooting interest in the Distaff — his son, Gary, will saddle longshot Valiant Emilia.
The younger Mandella was disappointed for his father, but he knows Beholder’s absence improves the chances of the 11 horses in the race.
“Beholder is the best mare we’ve seen post-Zenyatta,” Gary Mandella said. “The race is not easy but the field is lighter without her presence.”
Valiant Emilia, who is listed at 20-1, is making her U.S. debut Friday after coming to Mandella’s barn two months ago. The 5-year-old mare wouldn’t be here except that she won a race in Peru that guaranteed her a berth in the Distaff.
“I think she will be midpack,” Mandella said of her running style. “She’s kind of a grinder.”
She will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, a native of Peru, which has had just one other horse start in the Breeders’ Cup. Almudena was 10th in the Marathon two years ago.
“There is a lot of emotion for everyone,” said Gabriela Alvarez-Calderon, the daughter of owner Bernardo Calderon. “All the people that follow racing will be watching tomorrow.”
In Friday’s other Breeders’ Cup races:
Hootenanny is the early 3-1 favorite for trainer Wesley Ward in the $1 million Juvenile Turf, with Frankie Dettori aboard for the one-mile race.
Defending champion Goldencents is the shortest priced favorite among the day’s four races at 6-5 in the $1 million Dirt Mile. He is co-owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. The trainer of record is Leandro Mora, subbing for his boss Doug O’Neill, who is serving a medication suspension and is banned from attending the Breeders’ Cup.
Sunset Glow is the early 7-2 favorite for the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, giving Ward the favorites in both of the day’s races for 2-year-olds. Victor Espinoza will be aboard Sunset Glow.
in the one-mile race.