Looking at the races leading up to the Derby in a more general sense, there was a clear cut favorite coming into the weekend. Uncle Mo was undefeated, atop nearly every Kentucky Derby watch list and the 2010 undisputed champion of his division. Uncle Mo had quickly taken control of his previous races by racing immediately to the lead at the start, maintaining that lead with confidence, then pulling away from the field down the stretch.
Like Uncle Mo, Rory McIlroy is young and obviously very talented. At the end of the first round of the Masters Thursday, the brilliant 21-year-old from Northern Ireland went to the clubhouse with a score of seven under par and the early lead. Friday and Saturday were much the same for McIlroy as Sunday, he took a four-shot lead into the the final round at Augusta at 12 shots under par.
McIlroy bogeyed the first hole Sunday, missing a testy five foot put for par.
Uncle Mo’s Wood Memorial did not start well either, as he literally stumbled out of the starting gate. Before finding his stride.
McIlroy never really found his stride Sunday. On the par 5 second hole, McIlroy puts his drive in a fairway bunker then his second shot catches the lip of the bunker leaving an extremely long approach to a front pin position. McIlroy saves par but things are not going well as Carl Schwartzel eagles number 4 and McIlroy’s lead has vanished.
At some point during the early running of the Wood Memorial, perhaps when he stumbled, Uncle Mo grabs a portion of a front hoof with a back foot while running. The injury is minor and trainer Todd Pletcher said the injury was not an excuse for the poor performance. It couldn't have helped either.
McIlroy lost the lead in The Masters when he triple bogeys the tenth hole. He hit a tree on that hole approaching the green.
Unlike McIlroy, Uncle Mo looked like a winner for most of the running of the Wood Memorial. Although Uncle Mo didn’t hit a tree just before he gave up the lead to Author’s Tale inside the final furlong, it looked like he might have. Turning for home, jockey John Velazquez gave Uncle Mo the signal to start running and the colt responded. But then suddenly, it appeared as if Uncle Mo was finished as Author’s Tale quickly ran by Uncle Mo before eventual winner Toby’s Corner as well, even more rapidly.
Again, both Uncle Mo and Rory McIlroy are young and talented. McIlroy’s trade as a golfer will surely last years longer than Uncle Mo’s career as a race horse, but the odds are that they will both be heard from again.
There other parallels between The Masters final day and some other three-year-old thoroughbreds heading for Churchill Downs. Florida Derby winner Dialed In – who is perhaps now the pre-race favorite for the Kentucky Derby - likes to stay out of trouble by laying back in the pack before making a late run at the early leaders for his wins.
Masters champion Carl Schwartzel didn’t stay out of trouble all day, but stayed close enough to finish with a late run of four straight birdies on the final four holes of the Masters to win going away.
Adam Scott and Jason Day finished The Master two shots back of Schwartzel on the final leaderboard. Bo Van Pelt made a run with two eagles on the back nine but could manage no better than eighth place at eight under par. While these young men are obviously not new to the PGA tour, they did represent a wave of young names new to the average golf fan.
So too can be said of Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, Toby’s Corner and and Florida Derby winner Shackleford. Like Tiger Woods, Geoff Olgivy and Angel Cobrerra, don’t expect to say good bye easily to the more recognized Kentucky Derby contenders like The Factor, Comma to the Top, and Mucho Macho Man.
But like The Masters final leaderboard, the road to the Kentucky Derby has some new travelers.