Uncle Mo at the 2011 Kentucky Derby: Will He Race Saturday?
by Trevor Whenham - 5/6/2011
The biggest name in the lead up to the 137th Kentucky Derby has been Uncle Mo, and the drama and uncertainty surrounding him isn’t fading as we get closer to the race. What’s all the hype? Let’s take a look.
To start, it’s important to understand that we are talking about a wildly impressive horse. He was last year’s two year old champion after a dominating performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile capped a spectacular year. The Juvenile winner is always the early Kentucky Derby favorite, but there was a real sense around this horse that we were seeing something special.
The start of his three year old season was delayed until March when he ran in — and easily won — a totally meaningless race against weak competition. That was just a simple tune up before he cruised through the Wood Memorial en route to heavy Derby favoritism. Or at least that was the plan.
In reality it was nothing like that. The competition wasn’t particularly overwhelming in the Wood, but Uncle Mo had a disastrous day. He got the lead like he always does, and he looked reasonably comfortable. As the field rounded the last turn it was expected that he would shift into a higher gear and pull away from the field. Instead he hit the wall, slowed to a crawl, and was barely able to hold on to third.
A performance that terrible, and that unexpected, caused panic. Everyone was looking for an excuse. As it turned out there was a good one. Tests revealed that the horse was suffering from a gastrointestinal infection that had limited his effectiveness in the race.
The horse has recovered enough to be entered in the Derby, but that has created many questions and headaches for Kentucky Derby handicapping:
Is he healthy now? — The initial reports are that he was totally recovered, but now that clearly isn’t the case. An army of vets spent Thursday examining him, and a final decision about his fate will be made on Friday. No horse, no matter how talented, can win the Derby if he isn’t at his best physically, and it is becoming harder and harder to believe that all is well.
How has the illness affected his training? — Trainer Todd Pletcher has tried his hardest to keep the horse on track, and he must feel reasonably comfortable that he was able to or he wouldn’t have been entered. He didn’t get as much work as he would have in normal circumstances. More concerning, though, is how his last work looked. He trained with stablemate and fellow Derby entrant Stay Thirsty on Sunday. Uncle Mo should eat Stay Thirsty for lunch, but he had to work hard just to keep with him. Uncle Mo is known for his stunning speed, but he was, at best, pedestrian in that work. That’s a concern.
Can he handle his post position? — Uncle Mo drew the 18th position. That’s not a great position for a front runner at the best of times, never mind if that front runner has other questions. A horse that needs to be on the lead will want to be there by the time the field enters the first turn, and a horse that starts in the outside of the gate has to cover a lot of ground in a short time to get there. That can cause the horse to dig into reserves that he would normally need for the stretch drive. That’s always a concern, but especially one when the horse has particular concerns like Uncle Mo does.
Can he handle the distance? — This has always been a concern, so it’s nothing new. Uncle Mo’s sire, Indian Charlie, is a very nice and increasingly successful producer, but his progeny excel at shorter distances. The Derby certainly is not a short distance. Front runners don’t do great in the Derby at the best of times, and Uncle Mo has not looked like he enjoys distance. Therefore, his ability to still be moving forward in the final furlong is a huge concern.
There is a good chance that Uncle Mo will be scratched. It seems hard to believe he is going to be at his best, so his connections could use his illness as a excuse to skip this race and point towards a spot that is a better fit for him — like the Preakness. If he does scratch then it’s going to have a big impact on this race in a couple of ways:
Dialed In will be a heavy favorite — Only Uncle Mo is seen by the public as the only horse in the same class as the favorite. If he’s gone then the public money will pour onto Dialed In and he’ll drop well below his opening morning line of 4/1. If you believe that Uncle Mo is going to get scratched — and you believe in Dialed In — then it could make sense to buy futures now from sportsbooks before the race because the price will be better than it could be. The defection of Uncle Mo would also likely have downward pressure on Nehro’s price, so you could invest early in him as well.
The pace will slow down slightly — There are at least five speed horses in this field, so the early pace is likely to be blistering. The presence of Uncle Mo is only going to push that pace faster — the other horses won’t want to let a horse with so much class get away from them, so they will push hard to keep him isolated. With Uncle Mo gone the most intimidating front runner is out of the picture, and trainers and jockeys could be slightly less aggressive on the lead.
So, what does it all mean? Two things, as I see it — I don’t really believe that Uncle Mo is going to run in the race, and even if he does I wouldn’t bet him if he was at 20-1. It’s always nice when you can leave a favorite out of your exotics, and that’s certainly the case here.
Doc’s Sports expert Kentucky Derby handicappers will have a full card of Kentucky Derby picks for the Run for the Roses on Saturday. Doc will have a variety of recommended wagers including win place and show and also exotics. Doc’s has been putting in extra work this year on the race and we expect a big payday. Get all Doc’s Kentucky Derby predictions for just $20! Click Here to purchase.
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