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Profile: Uncle Mo

Uncle Mo winning the Timely Writer. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Critics of last year’s 2-year-old champion, Uncle Mo, seized on the Grade 1 Wood Memorial as their “told you so” moment. His steady fade in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep race was proof to them that the son of Indian Charlie was a glorified miler, easy to toss out as a wagering option in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.

So did Uncle Mo deserve the hype, and does he still deserve consideration in the Derby?

The answer here is an emphatic “yes.”

In the three races in his juvenile campaign, Uncle Mo showed the extremely rare ability (particularly for a dirt horse) to track or set quick fractional times and finish strongly.

Uncle Mo ran six furlongs (six-eighths of a mile) in 1:09.21 in his 14-length debut victory on August 28, 2010, at Saratoga. His time was great, with faster internal fractional times than set in the Ballerina Stakes (a Grade 1 race for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs) and the Grade 1 King’s Bishop (for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs) later on the race card.

Just as impressive was the way Uncle Mo finished in his first start: On the lead through four furlongs in :45.67 seconds, he ran his final quarter-mile in :23.54 while under a hand ride.

Uncle Mo validated that promise when stretched out to a one-turn mile in the Grad 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. Dueling on the inside, Uncle Mo ran internal splits of :22.91, :23.51, :24.55 and :24.04 seconds. Note the acceleration in the final quarter. Uncle Mo had more to give.

Trying two turns and a 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, Uncle Mo showed the ability to sit off horses for the first time. He took over after six furlongs in 1:11.92 and came home in :30.68 (that would be a good final 5/16 of a mile even for a deep closer on dirt).

As he was bounding through the stretch, opening up on the field, announcer Trevor Denman noted his “big, leaping strides.” It was one of the best performances in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile history, and it came on the same surface Uncle Mo will see in the Kentucky Derby.

Uncle Mo’s debut as a 3-year-old in the Timely Writer Stakes, a one-turn mile race fabricated just for him at Gulfstream Park, was both interesting and widely misunderstood. He bumped and broke slow from the rail, but thanks to a small field devoid of pace, he was able to come up the inside and assume control of the race.

Uncle Mo’s internal fractions in the Timely Writer were :25.52, :24.06, :24.11, and :22.87 seconds. His final quarter-mile was the fastest I have ever seen on Gulfstream’s main track. He galloped out enthusiastically.

The Timely Writer, though, was a curious race for a champion to return in, and because the pace was slow, and the final time — 1:36.56 — was as well, at least by Uncle Mo’s standards, this excellent effort was interpreted as underwhelming. The case against Mo began building, and his doubters felt vindicated by what happened next.

Sent off as the 1-to-9 favorite in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Uncle Mo set what should have been for him comfortable fractions. Yet for the first time in his career he was unable to quicken in the lane. The winner, Toby’s Corner, and runner-up Arthur’s Tale passed him at the sixteenth pole. Uncle Mo’s bounding, athletic stride was replaced by beaten perseverance as he galloped evenly to the wire in third place.

The Wood was Uncle Mo’s first try at a mile and an eighth, and trainer Todd Pletcher immediately disagreed with those who suggested the added distance got him beat. Based on Uncle Mo’s extraordinary internal fractions going one mile and 1 1/16 miles, I agree with Pletcher. Something else was wrong. Did Uncle Mo have a bone chip? Was he sick? Had he gone through an awkward growth spurt that upset his balance?

After the race, Uncle Mo’s team announced he had a gastrointestinal tract infection. Given the unquantifiable nature of that condition as it relates to performance, and the history of excuse-making in horse racing, particularly for valuable sire prospects, many people are going to revert to their previously held opinion of Uncle Mo. That is probably wise.

If you didn’t like Uncle Mo’s chances before the Wood, you have all the reason in the world to leave him off your tickets in the Derby. His pedigree is neutral at best for 10 furlongs, and there are questions about his health.

If, however, you believe in the greatness he showed in his previous starts, and if he looks like himself again in his final pre-Derby work, wouldn’t it be smart to forgive his effort in the Wood? If the answer is yes, then your odds just got better on one of the best 2-year-old champions in recent history.

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I think Uncle Mo possesses freakish talent. But for me, there are way too many unanswered questions swirling after his last race. I’d have a hard time feeling good about getting behind him as my Derby choice. I wish the best for the horse and I like his owner — but I will not be shocked if at the end of the Derby you can’t find him with a search warrant.

Posted by Jeffrey on April 26, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

With The Factor out, do you believe his chances are enhanced, jbm_cary?

– John Scheinman

Posted by John Scheinman on April 26, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

Although I question Uncle Mo’s pedigree by Indian Charlie to get the 1 1/4 in fast time, the key to me is his stride. He has a long router’s stride and he eat’s up ground. Plus with the exceptions of the Timely Writer, in which he had an easy lead and stormed home, and the Wood Memorial, when obviously he was not 100%, Uncle Mo earned the best numbers I’ve seen from a two year old in his three previous races to begin his career. He is the real deal in my opinion. Now all we can hope for is that he is right entering the gate on Derby day. Dialed In and Uncle Mo are standouts…with or without The Factor.

Posted by Andrew on April 26, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

Hi John — I think if he “runs his race,” and shows the ability we’d come to expect from him prior to the Wood, then his chances ought to be only enhanced by The Factor’s exit. My reservations mainly center on Uncle Mo himself. If he brings his “A” game, he’s the winner. But if the Wood was indicative of a new and dimnished Uncle Mo (whatever the elusive true cause), then I suppose the respective field’s pace comlexion will be moot.

Posted by Jeffrey on April 27, 2011 @ 6:44 am

I was at the Wood, and Uncle Mo looked like he had the race in the bag until failing to power away in the stretch. As a bettor, I began liking him more after that effort because it raised questions about his invincibility against what appears, at best, to be a moderate class of 3-year-olds, which should cause is odds to rise. The Factor’s demise strengthens Mo’s hand, but just participating in something like the Timely Writer was a red flag for me, and, of course, so was the Wood. I think if Uncle Mo brings his “A” game, the respective field’s pace complexion also may be moot because he should win regardless. So I guess pace is moot! (written laughing)

Posted by John Scheinman on April 27, 2011 @ 10:01 am

John — just wanted to say thank you for this great website… I intend to make it my source for Derby info this year. P.S. I am your “FB friend” Jeff Morris.

Posted by Jeffrey on April 27, 2011 @ 10:22 am


It’s our pleasure.

Posted by John Scheinman on April 27, 2011 @ 10:47 am

Author PhotoAn award winning newspaper journalist from Chicago’s south side, Pete Denk moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 2005. He wrote for Thoroughbred Times for five years, as a staff reporter and later as sales editor. Denk headed up the Times’ auction coverage for three years. Still based in horse country, he now works as a freelance journalist and consultant. More by  ›