Crown Imperial charges past her rivals in the Untapable (Coady Photography)
By Kentucky Downs Publicity Staff
FRANKLIN, Ky.— After running closer to the pace in the first four races of her career, Crown Imperial charged from well back Wednesday to win the $500,000 Pepsi Untapable Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, the final stakes of the 2023 season at Kentucky Downs.
The change of running style worked well for the 4 G Racing’s homebred daughter of Classic Empire trained by John Ortiz as the fast early fractions took a toll on the pacemakers. She prevailed by 1 ¼ lengths.
“This is the biggest win for us,” said Sharilyn Gasaway, who with her husband Brent and their two children are 4 G Racing based in Arkansas. “My husband and I had a horse that ran here and broke its maiden in a $350,000 stakes race (All Right, who won the 2016 Kentucky Downs Juvenile at 44-1 odds) in his second start. We weren’t even here because we thought there’s no way. It’s so exciting to be here, and we’re just so proud for her.”
The Gasaways have been sending horses to Ortiz since he opened his business.
“I couldn’t be happier for a group of owners,” he said. “Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway, I’ve known them for many years, almost 13 now. They’ve become like family. They’re one of my biggest supporters. When I went on my own with four horses, they owned three of them. They’ve been with me through the highs and the lows. So to see this happen for them, it’s something long overdue and I’m happy for them.”
When Candi Girl and Song of Norway led the field through a first quarter mile in a smoking 20.79, Crown Imperial was ninth, 7 ¼ lengths off the pace. The half was run in 44.32 and Crown Imperial and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. were eighth, 5 ¼ lengths back.
At the top of the stretch, Santana and Crown Imperial had surged and were right in the midst of the action on the move in second, a head behind Buttercream Babe and a half-length in front of Copper Em. Crown Imperial took the lead, splitting horses near the three-sixteenths pole and went on to beat Copper Em in 1:16.33. Buttercream Babe finished a head back in third and a neck in front of the favorite Hidden Class.
Darren Fleming, longtime assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, gave the Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Copper Em a solid review.
“She ran very well. Gutsy,” he said. “I think the winner just got a little lucky and got through on the fence, too. But she ran hard.”
Crown Imperial brought a record of 1-2-1 from four starts into the race. Despite a nose loss to Amidst Waves in the Bolton Landing at Saratoga in her most recent race, Crown Imperial was 13-1 in the wagering. She paid $29.46 to win.
“We got a good trip. She ran really nice,” Santana said. “She ran huge at Saratoga. Even Tyler (Gaffalione, who rode her in the Bolton Landing) came to me and said you can ride her with confidence. He’s one of my close friends and he liked her a lot (Gaffalione rode Honey Dijon). She broke really sharp. I knew they were going fast enough, and I sat and waited. At the three-eighths I asked her a little bit to run, and she responded real well. We saw that hole, and we went for it. And she kept going.”
There is a deep connection between Crown Imperial and Sharilyn Gasaway.
“She has a heart that you wouldn’t imagine,” Gasaway said. “Every time she gives us a 125 percent. And this is my homebred. I bred her myself. Her mom (Mi Fiori) was a wonderful horse, and I loved her personally but then she got claimed away from us. It took me a year to find her. I claimed her back just to ride her at home. Then people started calling me because her half-brother won a graded race and they wanted to breed her. I thought, ‘if they’re going to breed her, I’ll breed her.’ So I bred her and this is her first baby. Randy Gullatt, who’s a partner of ours in other horses, helped me pick out the stallion. When she was born, she was a little small. So we really didn’t have any expectations. But she has the heart like you wouldn’t believe.”
Ortiz is a big fan of the gritty Crown Imperial.
“She is what we call tiny but mighty,” he said. “She’s a small filly with the biggest heart. She got started in Ocala with Brightwork (his G1 Spinaway winner). They were partners, stablemates down there. I think they were doing a little planning in the paddock, I guess. They knew they wanted to be the best, so here we are.”
Ortiz ran the filly twice on the dirt before sending her into the Colleen on grass at Monmouth Park on July 29. She was third to Amidst Waves in the Colleen and faced her again at Saratoga.
“Honestly, I didn’t think any surface would matter with her because she just tries hard every time,” Ortiz said. “When I took a deeper look into her pedigree, I saw her mom actually ran six furlongs on the turf in New York. She’s small and I thought keeping her five furlongs was going to be the trick. But it looks like long on the turf might be another option we have.”
What’s next for Crown Imperial has yet to be decided.
“Obviously it’s early, but Keeneland has a ‘Win and You’re In’ (for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf),” he said. “I guess you consider taking her straight there. We’ll just see what happens in the next three weeks.”
Ortiz said it is possible that the filly could have four wins in five starts.
“The only reason she’s gotten beat, those two times at the wire, is because she’s small and she got headed by a nose,” he said. “Today she got the right trip by Ricardo Santana. He kept her out of that loose sand as much as he could. I thought he was going to tip her out. But he looked and took her in, cut the corner on that eighth-mile elbow, and I think that made the difference.”
This was Ortiz’s first Kentucky Downs stakes win. He was an assistant to Kellyn Gorder when All Right won the 2016 Ky Downs Juvenile