Some guys just have the golden touch. Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, wanted to get back into horse racing in 2014 - a sport he hadn't been a part of since the mid-1980s. He gave three trainers $500,000 each to spend on yearlings as they saw fit. Benson wound up with just seven horses. Remarkably, two of those seven - Mo Tom and Tom's Ready - will be in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby barring an injury. Some owners go a lifetime without a Derby horse despite endless efforts. Benson goes with almost a third of the horses he buys. Crazy.
Of the two, Mo Tom was clearly the most respected heading into the Louisiana Derby - he was the 5/2 favorite in the 11-horse field, while Tom's Ready was a 15/1 long shot. Things didn't go as planned, and now the other horse has the momentum. Can Mo Tom rebound and be a big factor on Derby day? Or is he just another youngster who peaked too soon?
Last race: Mo Tom is a deep closer. When they have the race they want to have then they have to pass pretty much every horse in the field. Any time you have to pass a horse there is a chance of an issue. It's risky, and in the Louisiana Derby those risks were realized by Mo Tom. After settling at the back of the field, he looked good while traveling forward when he made his move. He was passing horses and gaining steam. But then his jockey made a poor decision. He went to the rail to try to pass a horse, ran out of room, and was forced to check his progress dramatically. He recovered, moved outside and tried to resume his run, but by then it was too late. His momentum was gone, and all he could do was chase in vain. He wound up fourth. It was a nightmare of a trip, but that's the risk for a closer. The good news, at least, is that he came out of the race well.
Prior experience: Being forced to check and losing the race as a result in a major stakes race at Fair Grounds is unfortunately not a new experience for this horse. Prior to the Louisiana Derby the same thing happened in the Risen Star. He looked to be heading to victory over Gun Runner when he ran into trouble. He wound up third, and that effort despite the setback was enough to make him favored over Gun Runner in the Louisiana Derby. Prior to the Risen Star he had won the LeComte over Tom's Ready in his three-year-old debut. As a two year old he ran four times. He broke his maiden in his first try, won a stakes race in his third outing, and then was third in his graded stakes debut in the Kentucky Jockey Club in a strong field. The stakes win and the third were both at Churchill Downs, so we know he likes the surface there.
Trainer: Tom Amoss is a legend in Louisiana racing. He won his first race in 1987 and has stood in the winner's circle more than 3,200 times. His experience on the biggest stages is less stellar - he was third in the Preakness in 2013 and has finished third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff twice. Don't let the lack of high-level success concern you, though - the guy knows his stuff and the horse will be ready.
Jockey: Corey Lanerie is still the jockey - for now. It almost didn't look like he would be. After the Louisiana Derby, Amoss was very vocal in his criticism of Lanerie's ride - far more vocal than a trainer normally is. It seemed Lanerie was fired, but Amoss backed down the next day. Lanerie is a real pro who has been winning races since 1991. He has never been a nationally-elite rider, but he is coming off his best season last year. He's a capable rider, but he is prone to mind cramps - like he had in the Louisiana Derby. I'd be fine with him on the mount, but if Amoss decided to make a change I wouldn't be upset, either.
Breeding: Like as many as three other Derby horses, including likely favorite Nyquist, Mo Tom is a son of Uncle Mo. He's a red-hot sire right now, but since it has been such a prominent debate with Nyquist it's only fair that we mention here that there are concerns about stamina. Both two-year-old champ Uncle Mo and some of his prime ancestors struggled to get longer distances. It's a concern but not a crippling one necessarily - American Pharoah didn't have perfect stamina breeding, either, and we know how that turned out. Those concerns are heightened in this case by the fact that damsire Rubiano was the champion sprinter of 1992 - hardly a provider of serious stamina influences, either. If you were on the fence about Mo Tom then the breeding would likely not put you over the top on him.
Odds: BetOnline has Mo Tom at +2000 to win the Derby. In the final official Kentucky Derby futures pool, which ran the same weekend as the Florida Derby, he opened at 15/1 and drifted slightly to 17/1.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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