Derby Favorite Uncle Mo Arrives At Palm Meadows
By Dave Joseph
Trainer Todd Pletcher sat in his office at Palm Meadows earlier this week and talked about his good fortune last winter, when he had as many as eight 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail, including Fountain of Youth winner Eskendereya and eventual Derby winner Super Saver.
But even with his embarrassment of riches last winter – and the good fortune to train the likes of 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches – Pletcher admitted, “I don’t think we’ve ever come down here with a horse with more promise than Uncle Mo.”
Mike Repole’s Uncle Mo, the expected 2-year-old champ who arrived Wednesday at Palm Meadows shortly after noon, is just one of several stars Pletcher will start this winter when Gulfstream Park kicks off its 69th season of racing Jan. 5.
Pletcher, who saddled Uncle Mo to an effortless 4 ¼-length victory Nov. 6 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, reiterated this week the colt will have only two prep races before the May 7 Kentucky Derby. But Pletcher also added that he and Repole decided the colt’s first race back would not be at 1 1/8 miles.
“I wouldn’t rule out seven furlongs,” said Pletcher of the colt’s 3-year-old debut, which will come sometime at the end of February or beginning of March. “The only thing I would rule out is we don’t want to start him out at a mile-and-an-eighth. That sort of eliminates the Fountain of Youth, for example.”
The Fountain of Youth, contested Feb. 26, is the same day as Gulfstream’s seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes.
Pletcher, who’s been Gulfstream’s leading trainer a record seven consecutive years, also has the promising juveniles Stay Thirsty, who finished fifth behind Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Brethren, a son of Distorted Humor who is undefeated in two starts.
Stay Thirsty traveled with Uncle Mo to Ocala for 30 days of rest after the Breeders’ Cup and accompanied the early Kentucky Derby favorite Wednesday on the trip to Palm Meadows. Brethren is currently at WinStar Farm but will be joining Pletcher’s stable next week.
“We had a phenomenal winter last year with all our 3-year-olds,” Pletcher said. “But we don’t have the depth to the stable that it seemed like we had coming down here last season. So we need some maidens to step up. We’re excited about Brethren and Stay Thirsty, but once you get past two or three, it’s not like last year when we were shuffling around, with this one going to the Fair Grounds, or this one going to Tampa, Those are great positions to be in.”
Pletcher, who won the Hal’s Hope and Donn Handicap last winter with Quality Road, could have another top handicap horse in Rule, who won the Sam Davis at Tampa but hasn’t raced since finishing third in the Florida Derby. Rule is being aimed toward opening weekend and the Jan. 8 Hal’s Hope. Meanwhile, R Heat Lightning, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and winner of the Grade I Spinaway, will be pointed toward the Jan. 30 Forward Gal. Pletcher also has Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner More Than Real.