ARCADIA California (Reuters) - The 2014 Breeders’ Cup opened its $26 million programme on Friday with a superb win by Untapable, a disappointing run by the well backed Close Hatches and a stunning pregnant pause by jockey Rosie Napravnik.
Favourite Untapable, expertly piloted by Napravnik, took the honours in the feature race, the $2 million Distaff, with a commanding performance down the stretch but Close Hatches, a 3-1 choice, faded badly to finish last in a field of 11.
Untapable, undisputed queen of the three-year-old fillies, improved her career record to an impressive eight wins in 11 starts while Napravnik stunned the crowd at Santa Anita Park after the race by announcing her retirement as a mother-to-be.
“My husband Joe (Sharp) and I are going to be starting a family,” Napravnik, 26, later told reporters, saying her retirement would start on Sunday after she had raced for a final time on Saturday, the last day of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup.
“His career (as a horse trainer) is brand new and thriving, so it’s kind of good timing. He’s going to step into the limelight and I’m going to step out.
“I’ve been planning the retirement since I found out that I was pregnant. I’m about seven weeks pregnant. Couldn’t think of a better way to go out.”
Untapable, winner of the Kentucky Oaks in May with Napravnik on board, surged past Iotapa from the outside coming into the final turn to win the Distaff by one and one-quarter lengths.
Iotapa, piloted by Joseph Talamo, had to settle for third after finishing a nose behind Don’t Tell Sophia in the day’s feature race.
“What a tremendous feeling to be involved with this filly all year long and the races that she’s giving us and how good she is,” Untapable’s trainer Steven Asmussen said.
“Just very proud to be associated with her.”
The two-day, 13-race Breeders’ Cup extravaganza began in front of a crammed grandstand on an overcast afternoon at Santa Anita with Frankie Dettori piloting Hootenanny to victory in the $1 million Juvenile Turf after a strong finish.
Fast-starting Luck of the Kitten, with veteran jockey Mike Smith on board, had led for most of the race before Hootenanny stormed to the front on the final bend and coasting home by three-quarters of a length.
Luck of the Kitten, a two-year-old mare, finished second with Daddy DT, ridden by Corey Nakatini, a head behind in third.
“It was my first time on him but I had seen him run in England, so I knew his style,” said Dettori, who had beaten Hootenanny in his previous race in Deauville on board The Wow Signal.
“He wasn’t pulling. I got him settled. When I turned him on, I knew I had the race.”
Kentucky-bred Goldencents, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, successfully defended his title in the $1 million Dirt Mile with a strong-hearted display after holding off a powerful late surge by Tapiture.
An overwhelming 3-5 favourite when he entered the starting gate, Goldencents took control early on and, though Tapiture was closing in by the final turn, the four-year-old colt won by a length and one-quarter.
Tapiture, ridden by Napravnik, was second with Pants on Fire, piloted by Paco Lopez, a distant five lengths back in third.
“I knew I was going fast and I had to find a way to give him a little break from the three-eighths to the quarter-pole,” said Bejarano.
“When the other horse started to come to me, I held on to him just a little bit before I turned him loose. He fired big.”
In the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, Irad Ortiz rode Lady Eli to victory by two and three-quarter lengths over morning-line favourite Sunset Glow after a surging run from the inside rail.
Sunset Glow, with Victor Espinoza aboard, finished second, half a length in front of Irish raider Osaila, ridden by Dettori.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury