Untapable's retirement well-deserved, if a little late

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

June 20th, 2016

Owner Ron Winchell on Sunday night announced via Twitter the retirement of his champion mare Untapable, who ended her career on a disappointing note Saturday evening when finishing a distant fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the Fleur de Lis H. (G2) at Churchill Downs.

Unfortunately, the Fleur de Lis was the nadir in a 20-race career for the 2014 champion three-year-old filly. Seasoned handicappers and objective observers could not have been too surprised with her performance on Saturday as the daughter of Tapit had been showing plenty of signs over the past 12 months that she was not the same horse as she was during her championship campaign.

There has been a minor debate over social media whether connections were right or wrong to keep Untapable in training despite mounting evidence that she had peaked at age three. Some argue there's a bit of hypocrisy going on, that we complain when our stars are retired prematurely but don't celebrate and thank owners and trainers enough for doing the opposite.

While there's a grain of truth to that view, I find there is generally more animus against the perceived early retirements of colts to rake in stud bucks rather than against fillies and mares. Indeed, the industry has been blessed this century by the long and productive careers of such standouts as Azeri, Zenyatta, Royal Delta, Goldikova, Beholder, and Tepin, to name a few.

On the flip side, fans like myself don't necessarily like seeing established champions continue to race as shells of their former selves, especially when a second career awaits. Fillies like Rachel Alexandra and Winning Colors, for example, created a lot of magic at three, but showed enough signs at four to suggest it was unlikely to be repeated. I think we saw the same from Untapable in 2015.

Aside from a dull try against males in the Haskell Invitational (G1), Untapable was virtually untouchable at three, winning the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Mother Goose (G1), Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), and Rachel Alexandra by huge margins (average BRIS Speed rating of 104), and in the fall adding the Cotillion (G1) and Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).

The first visible sign of regression on Untapable's part came in her four-year-old debut, where she unexpectedly lost the Azeri (G3) to Gold Medal Dancer, a mare that simply wasn't supposed to be in her league. Untapable made amends for that loss in the Apple Blossom H. (G1), which turned out to be her final career victory, but even that 2 1/2-length score (97 Speed rating) over another unheralded foe, Diva's Diamond, did not assuage concerns that she might not be the same filly.

Those worries were borne out as the season progressed. Last year's older female division was loaded even when you leave Beholder out of the equation, so subsequent losses to the likes of Wedding Toast, Stopchargingmaria, and Sheer Drama can hardly be considered bad ones. However, at no point did Untapable look like a winner in the final furlong of the Ogden Phipps (G1), Shuvee H. (G3), or Personal Ensign (G1). Her final start of the year, in the Spinster (G1), was arguably her best of the season in defeat, but wouldn't the three-year-old version of Untapable have easily spurned the likes of Got Lucky and Yahilwa?

Judging from the performances of the latter two, it was probably a good thing Untapable missed the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1). However, feeling as if there was unfinished business, the connections of Untapable chose to press on with a five-year-old campaign. Three more losses later, her racing days are now over.

There is something to be said for hanging around too long. We could all name professional athletes and pop musicians who kept going (and keep going) despite not adding much to their legacies. While some might do so out of necessity or to pad their bank accounts, that is certainly not the case with horses like Untapable, who at the end of 2015 had little else to prove and, arguably, diminished prospects of doing so.

Untapable's retirement is well-deserved, if a little late. I look forward to seeing her babies run in the coming years.

(Coady Photography)