As the undefeated champion and winner of last year’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. 1), Uncle Mo tops nearly everybody’s list of Kentucky Derby contenders. In fact, he was the 3-1 favorite (over the field at 7-2) when the second of three Kentucky Derby Future Wagers closed Sunday. After the Todd-Pletcher-trained Uncle Mo won the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park in South Florida Saturday in his 2011 debut, there was little to prove otherwise.
As mapped out by Pletcher and owner Mike Ropole after the Breeders’ Cup win last Fall, Uncle Mo is now headed for the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. 1) at Aqueduct in New York April 9. The Wood will be his final stop before going to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby May 7 and seems this plan has few road blocks. He has $1.26 million in graded stakes earning to lead all Derby contenders, so money is of little concern. If he disappoints and runs second, third or worse in the Wood, he still qualifies for the Derby and would probably still run as long as he is healthy. Depending on the performance, he may still go off as the favorite in the Derby and may perhaps even win the Run for the Roses.
But there is a large elephant in the Pletcher shed row that everybody seem to be ignoring. The question is the Derby distance of 1-1/4 miles. The classic distance. Ten furlongs. And there lies the chink in the otherwise shiny armor of Uncle Mo. Can he get the ten furlongs.
Since it is a distance not covered by any other contender in this Derby, the concern reduces. However, Indian Charlie is the sire of Uncle Mo, and the concern again rises. And that is the name of the 10,000-pound elephant.
That is not intended to implicate that Indian Charlie has been a failure at stud. In fact he has been very successful siring four Eclipse Award champions in five years. This year, Indian Charlie has both Uncle Mo, and Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. 3) winner Anthony’s Cross in the race for a Kentucky Derby slot. Indian Charlie also stands for a $70,000 fee which defines his success during the tough economics facing the breeding industry in recent years.
The concern is that Indian Charlie has had a difficult time producing horses that like to run a route of ground. The lone exception is 2006 Champion Older Mare Fleet Indian (photo). She won sever grade 1 races around two turns including both the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. 1) and Delaware Handicap (gr. 1) at ten furlongs.
Indian Blessing was the 2-Year-Old Champion filly in 2007, then came back to be named Champion Female Sprinter the next year. Last year, Conveyance turned heads in winning the Southwest Stakes (gr. 3) at Oaklawn Park on his way to Kentucky. But the Bob Baffert trainee went directly to the front of last year’s Kentucky Derby, led the race for 6 furlongs before fading to 15th. Another Indian Charlie 3-year-old last year was My Pal Charlie, second in the Louisiana Derby (gr. 2). He did not start in the Kentucky Derby but won the grade 2 Super Derby at 1-1/8 in the Fall.
Uncle Mo won’t get much help from his dam, Playa Maya, a winner on the track who’s best races came while placing in minor stakes at Ellis Park in Kentucky and Delta Downs in Louisiana. Should Playa Maya pass on any distance, it would be because of the influence of her sire Arch.
While Arch’s stallion career has not matched that of Indian Charlie, he is the sire of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) winner, Blame. A quick scan through Arch’s current leading runners, and nearly all are competing around two turns. Arch has Archarcharch, winner of the Southwest Stakes (gr. 3) at Oaklawn Feb. 21, on this year’s Derby trail, so he his connections have interest as both a sire and a dam’s sire of two Derby hopefuls.
No doubt horses can run through their pedigrees. And there has been no indication that Uncle Mo will have any problems keeping his undefeated streak alive as the race distances increase. But before we christen Uncle Mo the Kentucky Derby winner in March, let’s at least acknowledge the elephant.