By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL. – Uncle Mo hardly took a deep breath in the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle Saturday after romping to an impressive victory in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes.
His owner was the one who was breathing deeply.
“It’s the first time in four months that I’ve taken a deep breath. So it kind of feels good to take a deep breath,” said Mike Repole, who readily admitted to being especially anxious about his stable star’s 3-year-old debut. “But when you have the best trainer in the world and he tells you how good this horse is, you’ve got to trust him.”
Undefeated Uncle Mo eased his owner’s nerves with a dominating 3-3/4-length triumph while living up to the lofty expectations of a very partial crowd that sent him to post as its 1-10 darling against four seriously overmatched rivals.
“He knows what he’s here for. He’s just one of those special horses. I’ve said it many times, ‘Good horses know they’re good.’ He knows he’s good,” Repole said. “He’s a monster on the racetrack and he’s a puppy dog in the stall. He knew today, he was running.”
Making his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 to clinch the 2-year-old Eclipse Award championship, Uncle Mo experienced just a momentary inconvenience while posting his fourth straight triumph. Breaking from the disadvantageous rail post position, Uncle Mo was away from the gate a step slowly and bumped briefly with Gallant Dreams to his direct inside. The rest of the race was uneventful, although eye-catching in the manner in which the son of Indian Charlie took control in his 2011 debut.
Under a strong hold by jockey John Velazquez, Uncle Mo set slow early quarter-mile fractions of :25 2/5 and :49 2/5 while stalked by Rattlesnake Bridge and Gallant Dreams. Jockey Jose Lezcano sent Rattlesnake Bridge after the pacesetter on the far turn but was no match for the favorite in the stretch after coming within a half-length of the lead. Uncle Mo pulled away through the stretch to complete the mile in 1:36 2/5, including the last quarter of a mile in :22 4/5. Rattlesnake Bridge, who captured his debut at Gulfstream on Feb. 12, held second money, another 5-3/4 lengths ahead of Gallant Dreams and jockey Javier Castellano.
“It was pretty simple. I wanted to keep him out of trouble and slow the pace down as much as possible. We were able to do that. He was doing it so easily,” Velazquez said. “In the stretch, I let him run a little and made sure he galloped out an extra eighth of a mile to make sure he got something out of the race.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher couldn’t have been more pleased with Uncle Mo’s return to action.
“Except for the break when he and the ‘two’ (Gallant Dreams) bumped, everything went the way I had hoped. It’s great to get over this hurdle. He got the last quarter in 22 4/5, which is always good in a dirt race, and he really galloped out strong,” Pletcher said. “He was the (Kentucky) Derby favorite going in and he’s the Derby favorite coming out.
Kiaran McLaughlin, who saddled Rattlesnake Bridge for his promising runner-up finish, had no complaints about his lightly raced colt’s performance.
“He are very pleased with how he ran. He did everything we wanted him to except win. Uncle Mo is the 2-year-old (champion) for a reason. I’m not sure what is next for him.”
Uncle Mo who is expected to have his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct on April 9. Repole, a Brooklyn native, is expected to send Stay Thirsty, who won the Gotham (G2) at Aqueduct last weekend, to Gulfstream for the $1 million Florida Derby on April 3.
“It’s not like I have 700 horses and I’ve been in this game since I was 18 and I’m 85 years old,” said Repole, who has owned horses for seven years. “I’m not stupid enough or naïve enough not to know how lucky I am.”