Could Uncle Mo Be The One?

Remember that beautiful June day at Belmont Park in 1978 when Affirmed fought back on the rail to hold off Alydar and win horse racing’s Triple Crown? Yeah, me neither. As a matter of fact, that was ten years before I was even born.

Yet believe it or not that was the last time any horse has won the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont). Since that hot June day in 1978 there have been seven perfect games in Major League Baseball, four quadruple-doubles in the NBA, and even a sighting of Halley’s Comet. Needless to say, horse racing’s Triple Crown has proven to be the most elusive feat in all of sports over the last three decades. Some horse racing fans are asking the question of whether or not it will ever happen again.

Last August my buddy Joe texted me, “the next Derby winner just ran at Saratoga.” I immediately picked up my laptop to see what this two year old colt by the name of Uncle Mo was really all about. This was the first race of his career and it only took a minute and nine seconds for the horse racing world to understand just how much talent this son of Indian Charlie possessed. He flew right out of the gate to take the lead with ease. Once he turned the field into the home stretch he seemed to be traveling in a totally different gear. He went on to defeat that field in his maiden voyage by nearly 15 lengths. It didn’t take long for horse racing fans to figure out they were looking at the sport’s next superstar. Not only did I think this horse had enough talent and speed to win the Kentucky Derby after the first time I saw him run, I thought he might be good enough to make a serious run at the Triple Crown.

Uncle Mo’s second start was in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in October at Belmont Park. This race was a mile and Uncle Mo was heavily favored after he crushed his maiden field. Once again, he displayed his beautiful long strides while showing class and professionalism coming under the wire. He won by 4 ¾ lengths and was clear by 14 ½ from the 3rd place finisher. He stopped the clock for a mile in 1:34 2/5 seconds and didn’t break a sweat. He did it with ease and looked very focused and mature for a two year old.

Up next was the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November. This is the championship race for two year old colts. To me this was Uncle Mo’s finest performance to date. It was his first time racing two turns and he had some questions to answer about possible distant limitations.

Early on in the race Uncle Mo was able to relax and rate right off the early speed. He ran right behind the pacesetters with a natural stride and looked poised the whole way down the back side. Once he turned for home all it took was a little tap on the shoulder for Uncle Mo to put his head down and find his most powerful stride. He had full command of the race by the eighth pole even with another young star, Boys at Tosconova, running on late for second. Uncle Mo won by 4 ¼ lengths and was clear from third place by over ten. This was an overpowering performance. Not because of the margin of victory but because of how he did it, easing at the finish line while the rest of the best two year olds in the country were toiling down the stretch.

After completing his two year old campaign a perfect three for three and winning the Eclipse Award for top two year colt, trainer Todd Pletcher gave Uncle Mo the winter off to prepare for what could be a very special three year old campaign. After a four month layoff he made his three year old debut at Gulfstream Park in a one-turn mile race. Uncle Mo overcame a slight stumble at the start and won the race by 3 ¾ lengths with nothing more than a morning jog. The race was merely a tune-up.

Uncle Mo’s final prep race came last Saturday in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He was the monstrous 1-9 favorite in a field of nine. I figured this would be the chance for Uncle Mo to really show off. The field wasn’t great and he seemed primed for a Secretariat-like performance. Yet after getting a comfortable lead, Uncle Mo didn’t have quite the same kick heading for home. He began to tire in the final sixteenth of a mile and eventually got passed late by Toby’s Corner and Arthur’s Tale to finish third losing by a length and a quarter. It was one of the biggest upsets in horse racing in quite a long time. This was supposed to be his statement race leading into the Kentucky Derby yet it turned out to be an incredible disappointment.

After I had some time to really think about Uncle Mo’s defeat I decided that I wasn’t too discouraged. Keep in mind this is the horse that I have been telling everybody was going to win the Triple Crown since last year and he couldn’t even defeat the field in the Wood Memorial. Yet let’s take a look at some of the evidence I’ve found to overlook this defeat. First of all, three of the last four Derby winners were defeated in their final prep race, Big Brown being the only exception. The Kentucky Derby is the race where you want your three year old colt to peak in. Many times horses run their best race in their final prep and then don’t have the same speed and stamina once they reach Churchill Downs.

Uncle Mo also faced a minor hiccup at the starting gate. When the gates opened in the Wood Memorial, he stepped on himself and took a chip out of one of his hoofs about the size of a quarter. Although that isn’t a major injury by any stretch, it certainly wouldn’t be a delightful way to begin running a mile and an eighth race. Tests came back this week that Uncle Mo came out of the race completely sound and healthy.

Even with the bad luck at the gate and an extremely disappointing stretch run, Uncle Mo’s performance in the Wood brought back a 92 Beyer Speed Figure. When you compare that to the other top Derby contenders it fits right in. Dialed In for example had a great last-to-first stretch run to win the Florida Derby a week prior to the Wood Memorial. Yet even with how visually impressive his race was, it only registered a 93 Beyer, a single point higher than Uncle Mo’s epic disappointment.

The final piece of evidence which makes me believe Uncle Mo is still destined to win the Kentucky Derby and possibly the Triple Crown is the Secretariat factor. I said I thought that going into the Wood Memorial he was poised for a Secretariat-like performance. Indeed he was. The last time that a colt was upset at that short of odds in the Wood was Secretariat himself, the race before Big Red went on to win the Triple Crown. Secretariat had won his last ten races coming into the ’73 Wood and just like Uncle Mo, he finished third as the heavy favorite. A common phrase in the sport is, “that’s just horse racing.” Basically that means when you put a group of animals into a starting gate anything can happen and the best horse doesn’t always win. Sometimes they don’t handle the track. Sometimes they get a rough trip. Sometimes the jockey judges the pace wrong. Sometimes they just don’t have it.

So don’t be discouraged by Uncle Mo’s defeat in the Wood Memorial, that’s just horse racing. His trainer Todd Pletcher has been giving rave reviews of this colt from the first day he stepped into his barn. Pletcher is a very modest guy and a straight-shooter. He talks not only about Uncle Mo’s unbelievable physical talent but his uncanny maturity as a young race horse.

A few times in our lifetime, we get the privilege to witness an athlete like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. These superstars possess the absolute top athletic ability to go along with a killer instinct mentality. Uncle Mo seems to have both. Don’t be surprised if he follows in the footsteps of Secretariat nearly 40 years ago by erasing the memory of a bad run in the Wood Memorial to win the Kentucky Derby and possibly the Triple Crown. I won’t be.

4 Responses to Could Uncle Mo Be The One?
  1. Soccerjlb
    April 18, 2011 | 12:43 am

    great article

  2. Anonymous
    April 18, 2011 | 1:13 am

    uncle mo is one of the most popular horses in the racing…
    but we could not say if he’s the one cause there are so many improving horses with the jockeys… but hope so for uncle mo…

  3. LaceEmUp
    April 18, 2011 | 1:32 am

    there’s nothing easy about winning the Triple Crown. it’s so challenging, I’m not sure what to even compare it to. the overall popularity of the sport would love the ratings should Uncle Mo or anything horse for that matter be in contention.

  4. Anonymous
    May 5, 2011 | 12:14 am

    i have read many articles about uncle mo and he is really good , with all the awards and the wins i bet he would be more popular than any other horses but we cannot say he would be the one yet cause we dont know someone might come up in the blue and show some extraordinary skills like him. 🙂

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