The Brock Talk

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Uncle Mo And His Derby Trail Momentum

More than a week after what many consider the best Breeders’ Cup in the 27-year history of the event, it’s final criteria for judgment is still more than five months away. The final question to be asked: Will Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Uncle Mo, go on to victory in the Kentucky Derby?

In the previous 26 editions for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, only one winner has gone on to take the Kentucky Derby. Street Sense became the only horse to win both races when he won the 2006 Juvenile and 2007 Kentucky Derby. Similar to Uncle Mo, Street Sense won his Juvenile at Churchill Downs by a record 10-length margin in 2006, almost doubling the record margin set by eventual Horse of the Year Favorite Trick who won the Juvenile by 5-1/2 lengths. Arazi in 1991 and Brocco two years later, both won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by five lengths.

Uncle Mo won by only 4-1/2 lengths as the favorite over second choice Boys of Tosconova, who was a full six lengths ahead of third place finisher Roque Romance. So the final margin in the Juvenile is a bit misleading for Uncle Mo, who seemed to have an easy time winning that day.

And while Uncle Mo ran the second fastest Beyer Speed Figure in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 108, his time of 1:42.60 was just above the middle of the pack as the tenth fastest of 24 Breeders’ Cup Juveniles run at the distance of 1-1/16th miles. (Three times the race has been run at a mile [1984-'85, '87]. Also, Capote covered 1-1/4 miles winning the 1986 Juvenile at Santa Anita and in 2002, Vindication had to cover 1-1/8 miles to win the Juvenile at Arlington Park.) Midshipman ran the fastest Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2008 over Santa Anita’s PolyTrack, covering the 1-1/16 miles in 1:40.94. Interestingly, ranking just above Uncle Mo is Street Sense, who ran over Churchill Downs as a juvenile just 1/100th of a second faster than Uncle Mo, winning in 1:59.66.

Although, Street Sense is the only winner of the Juvenile to come back and take the Derby next Spring, four other Juvenile starters have returned to take the Run for the Roses including Spend A Buck, third in the 1984 Juvenile, Alysheba (3rd, 1986) Sea Hero (7th, 1992) and Mine That Bird (13th, 2008).

Among the most popular and simple handicapping angles for those in search of a Kentucky Derby winner is the old “dual qualifier” angle. In order to be qualified, a horse must have been weighted within ten pounds of the high weighted 2-year-old in the Experimental Free Handicap and have a dosage index of 4.00 or less. Although the Experimental Free Handicap is not published until January, Uncle Mo is very likely to be named as the high weighted 2-year-old colt in 2010 by the panel of racing secretaries consisting of Ben Huffman of Churchill Downs, P.J. Campo of the New York Racing Association and Thomas S. Robbins of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

Developed by the late Daily Racing Form columnist and pedigree expert Leon Rasmussen, the system held up well until the late 1990s when Silver Charm won the Derby as a dual qualifier in 1997. Since then, only two dual qualifiers have won the Kentucky Derby including Super Saver last year and Street Sense in 2007. With the expected high ranking in the Experimental Free Handicap and a Dosage Index of 2.20, Uncle Mo has the credentials.

This week trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole said they have shipped Uncle Mo to Jimmy Crupi’s New Castle Farm in Ocala. Fla. for a month vacation with daily walks and some relaxing paddock time. Connections said Uncle Mo will return to training with Pletcher at the Palm Meadows training center around Dec. 1 and that his road to the Kentucky Derby is likely include two races. Because Repole is a New Yorker, the planned final Derby preparation for Uncle Mo is the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Race Track.

Since 1937, only 10 horses have won the Kentucky Derby with only two races as 3-year-old to prepare, but the list includes Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird and Super Saver, the winner’s of the last four.

Should Uncle Mo remain in the Pletcher barn and jockey John Velazquez keep the mount until the first Saturday in May, Uncle Mo will also share two other statistics with Street Sense. He will go to the post after being saddled by a one-time Derby winning trainer and a jockey looking for his first trip to the illustrious Derby winners’ circle. Street Sense was trained by Carl Nafzger, who had previously won the Derby with Unbridled in 1990 and was ridden by Kentucky Derby maiden jockey Calvin Borel. Pletcher won his first Kentucky Derby with Super Saver last year and Velazquez is still searching for his.

There are of course, many other questions and challenges Uncle Mo must overcome before he can realistically be expected to contend in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 – not the least of which is his sire Indian Charlie. Standing at Airdrie Farm in Kentucky for a healthy $70,000 per breeding, Indian Charlie has had little success at producing runners that can get the classic 10 furlong distance of the Derby. On the track, Indian Charlie won the 1998 Santa Anita Derby at 1-1/8 miles but was third in the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby behind Real Quiet.

As a sire, Indian Charlie had Conveyance on the Triple Crown trail last year under trainer Bob Baffert. Conveyance won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, both graded races at eight furlongs. Although Conveyance had plenty of speed to lead the 2010 Kentucky Derby field for nearly a mile, he slowed quickly in the final two furlongs and finished 15th. Among his current top performers, only the 4-year-old gelding Indian Dance and 4-year-old filly Moon Charmer are stakes winners further than 8 furlongs. Moon Charmer won the $50,000 Farer Belle Handicap at 8-1/2 furlongs and Indian Dance won the $62,000 Harry E. Johnson Memorial Stakes at 9 furlongs.

There is much that can happen in the 165 days between now and the Kentucky Derby. Soundness, health, maturity and racing luck will also be keys to the success of Uncle Mo next year and while they are high in importance, they are perhaps the least over which Pletcher has control.

But with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his pocket and a Champion 2-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award surely on the way, Uncle Mo has plenty of credentials to carry the spotlight into his sophomore year.

No comments: