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The Backstretch

“Mo” Speculation Dominates Backstretch Chatter

Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher react to Uncle Mo drawing post #18 for the Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Only at the Kentucky Derby could people draw a crowd just by talking about their gastrointestinal problems.

The enigmatic fallen champion, Uncle Mo, was the object of unending fascination and conjecture on the Churchill Downs backstretch Thursday morning. His health and well being have remained shrouded in mystery since his shocking third-place finish as the overwhelming favorite in the Wood Memorial. The reason, or excuse, given for the defeat was centered on his innards.

The most accomplished, fastest colt in the Derby field, who reaches out for different time zones with every stride, now is widely considered a ruin and likely to scratch.

The media mob swarmed outside the troubled barn of Todd Pletcher, instructed, fittingly, by PR honcho Kelly Wietsma to stand behind the barricades.

Jockey John Velazquez was the first to appear for a grilling, and he looked pained to the point of discomfort responding to 50 different permutations of the question, “What the hell is going on?”

Is Uncle Mo running? “I have no answers for that.”

How do you feel about what’s happening with Uncle Mo? “It’s my job. This is what I do. I’m going to show up and go to work.”

Do they seek out your opinion? “No.”

He couldn’t have looked any more relieved to escape.

Pletcher didn’t come out of his office to talk to the media for the second straight day. Owner Mike Repole, on Thursday, appeared after Velazquez.

“I’ve been telling you guys it’s been 50-50 since Sunday,” he said.

Repole insists Uncle Mo will let them know if he is ready to run, but the fact that the conversation, every single day, is about nothing else, suggests that the horse is not doing too well. No one is dispelling the concern.

Three wise men — veterinarians Ken Reed and Steve Allday, and equine internist Doug Byars — are in attendance. Repole said more tests were scheduled for Thursday and a meeting would be convened either in the evening or Friday morning to determine whether or not to go forward.

Repole said it would not be fair to allow wagering to open Friday and then later scratch Uncle Mo. He already appeared to be letting the likelihood of his beloved star not running sink in.

“I want this horse to be the best in the country,” he said. “If he misses this, we’ve got the Jim Dandy, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic. I’m not going to put my ego before a horse’s health. I feel bad for Todd. I feel bad for Johnny.”

Before these sad gatherings took place, Uncle Mo walked the shed row, behind his stablemate Stay Thirsty, and then headed out to the track.

Stay Thirsty’s coat glistened in the sunlight; Uncle Mo’s did not, but he hardly looked like a horse suffering from consumption.

The pair galloped a mile and a half. Coming off the clubhouse turn onto the backstretch near the end, Uncle Mo took a strange step and appeared to briefly stumble forward. He recovered and began reaching out with high steps, his head straining, up in the air.

Drunken sailor? Eager tiger?

Fifty-fity, as Repole said, and if anyone knows for sure about these gastrointestinal problems, they weren’t talking.

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It’s definately a weird situation. I just read Bob Baffert’s statement that Repole is “just trying to build a price on the horse” which sounds borderline insane but who knows.

Posted by Jeffrey on May 5, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

“Uncle Mo…object of unending fascination and conjecture… Thursday…health and well being have remained shrouded in mystery…”

Mo’s the 2nd Coming of Howard Hughes, in the eccentric billionaire’s bizarre last ten years on earth…

Posted by Don Reed on May 5, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

“Jockey John Velazquez…looked pained to the point of discomfort…”

Can you blame him? The last time he responded to the media in a similar oddball situation (Life At Ten/BC Fall 2010), it cost him $10,000!

If he can get the reporters to post bond before each interview, that might loosen him up a bit.

Posted by Don Reed on May 5, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

Experience is everything and after the Life at Ten debacle who would dare open their mouth. I am sure they want to take their shot if at all possible but, if he goes out and finishes last, the inquiry will be held in congress. If you want to know the true situation, how about asking Jerry Bailey. The idea that Repole is just trying to build a price is just too preposterous.

Posted by David on May 5, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

Baffert’s tongue was in his cheek when he said that! He was putting you on, joking.

Posted by Lois on May 6, 2011 @ 2:04 am

Author PhotoJohn Scheinman, a long-time writer and editor, covered thoroughbred racing for The Washington Post from 2000-09. He won the Red Smith Kentucky Derby writing contest for best advance in 2007. He is a correspondent for the Thoroughbred Times. Scheinman also has worked extensively in humor writing and sketch comedy. He lives in Washington, DC. More by  ›